Ben Hernandez is the Founder and CEO of NuMat Technologies, a software-driven chemistry design company focused on solving generational challenges at the atomic level. In this Q+A, Ben discusses the challenges of solving complex sustainability issues, the value of failure, and the joys of building a passionate team.
We know NuMat is a deeply technical company with the potential to solve several complex problems. Can you tell us more about what you’re building with the platform and share a few examples of applications for the technology?
NuMat Technologies is an advanced materials company that computationally designs materials that reduce the carbon intensity of industrial processes. Through advanced computing, chemistry and engineering, we design and manufacture Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs), an innovative class of nanomaterials with significant promise. What makes MOFs unique is that they can be programmed, almost like software, to target and capture molecules (e.g. therapeutics, greenhouse gasses, etc.) with a level of precision not previously possible. Using our data-driven platform, we accelerate the discovery and commercialization of new materials which help our customers in the electronics, life-science and energy sector achieve pressing sustainability and innovation objectives.
- Improving the yield, safety and sustainability of semiconductor manufacturing through the integration of novel chemistries into how electronic materials are produced, delivered and recycled
- Deploying next generation protection technology in apparel to capture and destroy chemical weapons and toxic industrial chemicals
- Integrating new materials into chemical production processes to reduce scope 1 emissions
- Removing toxic impurities from active pharmaceutical ingredients
Sustainability and environmental impact are top of mind for many of us, how do you see NuMat addressing the complex issue of climate change? In which areas of climate tech do you see your company making the biggest impact?
One of the greatest macro trends we’re seeing is the drive across all industries to achieve net zero emissions. This trend is demanding changes in company behaviors, from shifts in R&D portfolios, to capex allocation and M&A priorities. However, the ability to achieve net zero emissions in a timeframe that matters will come from the development and deployment of new technologies which do not yet exist (or whose adoption is nascent). As a critical solutions provider utilizing MOFs, we enable leading companies to achieve net zero emission targets through the integration of our material technology into existing products and processes. One example of this is our ability to design materials that capture greenhouse gasses and toxic industrial chemicals. By integrating our materials at various points of emissions, we can soak up toxic molecules like a sponge soaks up water, significantly reducing scope 1 emissions and creating significant value by regenerating the captured gas.
How has your varied background – from your law and engineering degrees to your strategy consulting and private equity experience– shaped your experience as a founder and your journey in building NuMat?
My academic and professional background provided the technical foundation and experience required to apply judgment and analytical rigor in the decision making process, as well as an understanding of how well managed companies are governed.
My journey in scaling NuMat has been more about building a brilliant team filled with curiosity, passion, and an ambition to have the highest impact through innovations in chemistry. My degree and pedigree stopped being relevant the day I hired the first amazing person at NuMat.
What motivated you to start NuMat and what drives you to continue doing this work?
During graduate school, I met two unique individuals who would ultimately become co-founders and dear friends. One was a Ph.D. student in chemical engineering and the other a young faculty member in the department of chemistry. Their research focused on the application of high-performance computing to design cutting-edge nanomaterials that could solve complex societal challenges such as carbon capture or hydrogen storage. What united us was a shared vision of what the future might be if we could successfully commercialize this technology. NuMat Technologies was born out of that vision. To this day, I am driven by the fanatical belief that what we’re doing is of consequence, and that we are going to be one of the great companies of tomorrow.
Can you talk a little bit about any challenges you faced early on as a founder? How did you overcome those, and what lessons have you learned from them?
Material innovation is hard. Commercialization cycles can take 10 to 20 years. As a result, very few companies or investors are able to truly invest in innovation in the field. Our thesis at founding was that there was a better way through the convergence of digital technology and material science. As a result, we invested early on in building a data-first commercialization platform – from discovery through manufacturing and productization, which could reduce time to market. The lesson learned was in the power of platforms and new work-flows in driving sustained competitive advantage.
Reflecting on your entrepreneurial journey, is there anything you would have done differently?
In scientific research, often the best discoveries emanate from failed experiments with unexpected outcomes. Through failure, valuable lessons are learned, new experiments charted, and maybe, just maybe, something of great consequence comes of it. This has been my experience personally and professionally. I can clearly point to discrete decisions which were wrong, or poorly executed. While unfortunate, the experience has led to significant improvement or benefits – be it leadership maturity or operational excellence.
You were recognized as an Exceptional Entrepreneur at Goldman Sachs’ 2022 Builders and Innovators Summit. What excites you most about your future personally and as a company?
I’m tremendously excited by the opportunity to work alongside brilliant and passionate colleagues who share in the vision to solve the problems that matter. I am humbled by the determination and grit of our team to solve complex changes. The possibility of discovery and doing things that others can’t is incredibly motivating.
As a company, I’m excited by the convergence I’m seeing between our core strategy and macro trends which are here to stay. This involves many companies recognizing the value of integrating digital and computational work-flows with material discovery, and the need for material innovation to help achieve net zero pledges. We’re well positioned to be part of this trend in a meaningful way.
Read the full interview on Goldman Sachs