Stanford entrepreneur finds the cool in jazz, clean energy startup

Stanford entrepreneur finds the cool in jazz, clean energy startup

RICHMOND — Anthony Diamond had a few, key childhood inspirations: Star Trek and Michael Jackson.

As an adult, he’s tried to reconcile his passion for engineering and music.

Not that the path was easy. Raised by a single mother, Diamond left Portland to escape gang violence. His family settled in Northern California’s Arcata, more noted for redwoods than a budding jazz scene or nuclear engineers.

He picked up a guitar as an 8-year-old, and later switched to saxophone and clarinet. He excelled, playing concerts with saxophonist Branford Marsalis and childhood friend Esperanza Spalding. Diamond also played a solo on the song “City of Roses” from Spalding’s Grammy award-winning album, Radio Music Society.

Diamond also dove into studies, leading to a scholarship to Stanford University. Today, he balances finishing his doctoral dissertation from UC Berkeley with running a refrigeration battery startup.

Diamond and co-founder and president Amrit Robbins launched Axiom Exergy  to solve a problem facing grocery stores — high energy costs for refrigeration. The Richmond-based company makes batteries and software to manage energy use. Founded in 2013, it has 13 full-time employees.

It’s backed by $2.5 million from angel investors, including support from Tesla executive and fellow Stanford alum JB Straubel. The company installed a pilot project in April at a Whole Foods in Los Altos.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why renewable energy? What sparked that interest?

A: I’d been interested in energy and propulsion from a really young age. I really like Star Trek, and I was really inspired by LeVar Burton as the chief engineer on the Next Generation. I thought it would be awesome to develop a warp reactor as a kid.

Also, my mom really inspired a love of nature. When I got to college, I kind of had an “A-ha” moment, where I felt like I personally needed to be focused on … more terrestrial issues, related to resources. I focused my interests in engineering to energy.

Q: Tell me how Axiom can help do its part in renewable energy?  What market is it addressing?

A: We’re primarily focused right now on supermarkets. Supermarkets are interesting because they have requirements in terms of how they operate that are really inflexible. The paradigm is that, for the last 100 years, refrigerators run when the food is warm, to cool it off. Our technology enables these systems to be run intelligently for the first time.

We can store cooling capacity for later use. We can enable our customers to save on their utilities, which are a large part of their operating expenses. Refrigeration is actually about 55 percent of their overall energy usage.

Unlike other facilities — like office buildings — refrigeration has really been this huge energy hog that’s been untouchable until now.

Q: How did the company come together?

A: My co-founder (Amrit Robbins) and I both attended Stanford undergrad together. I play saxophone, he’s actually a trumpet player. He was like, the best jazz trumpet player on campus. So whenever I had a gig, I would call him, and vice-versa. We had an opportunity to collaborate a lot within that context. I knew that I worked really well with him and we were a really great team.

We both have the same ambitions with regard to energy and sustainability. He was more focused on making change through the business route. I was more interested in affecting change by bringing about new technologies. In the back of my mind, I earmarked him as the future CEO.

Q: How did you first get into music?

A: I’ve been playing saxophone for about 20 years at this point. I actually started with guitar when I was a few years younger. My mom played piano — but not really. She definitely would dance with me when I was an infant. I definitely got a pretty good sense of rhythm. I got the bug to actually start playing instrument from Michael Jackson’s Bad album. It was so cool.

I played clarinet. The game-plan was to get a music scholarship to fund college. That was going to be the best way I could fund it. The clarinet can be played in a larger variety of ensembles. But as soon as I was able to attend a college with academic scholarships, I quit clarinet. It’s not a passion to the same extent.

I love saxophone. It just feels like a really natural extension of my voice.

Q: What did you take from music to startup world?

A: Maybe not even music, more importantly jazz.

It’s not just the startup world but it’s to engineering. It’s the importance of hearing all the different parts and how they interplay with one another. It helps to inform the way I think about systems. Looking at all the different interactions, seeing if you can get to the point where all the pieces transcend, develop emergent properties that are beyond the capabilities of any of the individuals. That’s like the supreme moment in a jazz collective or a democracy.

Anthony Diamond Profile

Position: Co-founder and chief technology officer, Axiom Exergy
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Education: North Coast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy, Arcata, Calif.; Stanford University, B.S., mechanical engineering, M.S., materials science and engineering. UC Berkeley, working on dissertation for PhD in materials science and engineering.
Previous jobs: jazz musician, business technology analyst at Deloitte Consulting
Family: Single
Home: Berkeley
Age: 30

Five things about Anthony Diamond

  1. Diamond was raised by a single mother in Portland, Oregon and grew up friends with jazz musician Esperanza Spalding. He considers her part of his extended family.
  2. When he was about 10, he met guitarist Norman Brown after a concert. Brown told the boy he always wanted to learn saxophone. Diamond decided to switch from guitar to saxophone.
  3. He attended a jazz workshop at Stanford University, where he met saxophonist Branford Marsalis. The 12-year-old told Marsalis he was going to learn everything humanly possible from the master in one week. Marsalis became a mentor, and Diamond has played several concerts with him.
  4. LeVar Burton’s character Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, inspired him to pursue science. He studied mechanical engineering at Stanford.
  5. He’s 6’6″ and can dunk. Diamond said it grabs the attention of young African-American students he meets and mentors.

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Published at Mon, 04 Sep 2017 14:00:56 +0000