Revolution Research Inc., a company founded by two University of Maine graduates, learned this week it will receive nearly $225,000 from the National Science Foundation to develop a new type of foam board insulation for the multibillion-dollar insulation industry.

The grant from the NSF’s competitive Small Business Technology Transfer program will allow the Orono-based company to create a prototype of what company co-founder Nadir Yildirim said will be the first 100 percent eco-friendly thermal insulation foam board that also is fire retardant and water resistant.

Yildirim, a native of Turkey, is a graduate of UMaine’s innovation engineering program and currently a Ph.D. student at the school studying nanocomposite materials. His business partner and co-founder is Alex Chasse, a 2013 UMaine graduate in civil engineering who works as a researcher at the university’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

The pair met while working in the university’s lab – Yildirim studying the use of natural resources to create foam insulation and Chasse studying the surface chemistry of soil – and quickly struck up a friendship based on their shared interests.

Revolution Research Inc., the company they founded last year, recently won the UMaine Business Challenge, and a $5,000 award, for its business plan to develop thermal insulation foam board from a mixture of corn starch, cellulose nanofibrils and other materials.

The thermal insulation market in North America is worth an estimated $10 billion to $15 billion, according to Yildirim’s research. That market is expected to grow to $27 billion by 2020, he said.


While the pair have so far used UMaine’s lab facilities, the NSF grant will allow them to rent space and buy equipment for their own lab. They have a year to develop a prototype. If that goes well, the company will be in the running for a Phase 2 grant of up to $750,000 to begin commercializing the product.

“It is very, very competitive,” Yildirim said of the NSF grant program.

He was told the NSF got more than 1,000 proposals this year and only 10 percent received money.

Yildirim said winning the award wouldn’t have been possible without help. The pair received a $5,000 grant from the Maine Technology Institute last year, which they used to hire Wizbe Innovations in Manchester to help them prepare their NSF grant application. He said MTI staff also were instrumental in helping them navigate the various questions NSF peppered them with over the six months since they applied in December.

“We couldn’t do this by ourselves,” Yildirim said. “You need a strong team that includes people who know business, the technical parts, grant writing, marketing and administrative issues. I know the technical part. I’m working on my Ph.D., but it means nothing when you really want to sell your product on the market. You can be the guy who knows everything about science and create the best material ever created, but if you don’t know how to sell it or if you don’t know who to sell it to, or don’t know your customer, it doesn’t mean anything. It will be trash. It will just be material sitting on your desk.”

He also credited UMaine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation for instilling in him the skills he needs as an entrepreneur.

“They taught me not to fear and how to feel the passion. The passion is the strongest part,” he said. “You should believe in what you’re doing, focus on it. No fear. Otherwise, you will get stuck at some point. You need to trust in yourself 100 percent.”


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