Tony Atti is an experienced energy technology investor, entrepreneur, and executive who has demonstrated expertise and leadership in venture financing, business development, startup growth and operations, and negotiating joint-venture relationships.
As Co-Founder and CEO at Phononic, he’s led the development and growth of the company as the leading innovator of solid-state cooling and heating management solutions through accretive venture capital and institutional investor support. As a former Director at MHI Energy Partners, a seed- and early-stage energy private equity fund, Tony managed deal flow networks, conducted due diligence, structured venture financing transactions, and provided direct portfolio company leadership.
Tony earned his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute at the University of Southern California. He also holds an MBA from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Ithaca College.
1. What is in your pockets?
I carry one of those tiny little slim wallets that basically has my license, insurance card, global entry card, two credit cards and about 25 to 50 bucks in cash.
2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
We’re innovating semiconductor cooling solutions that sustainably displace compressors. And the analogy is, what semiconductors have done for solar and LED, we’re doing for cooling and refrigeration.
In October and November of last year, we installed what we believe is the world’s first-ever completely sustainable outdoor or indoor air conditioning system in Singapore. It was the culmination of almost 18 months of R&D work with Phononic and partners in Singapore and we had a major deployment and announcement last November where the first-ever systems were operational and installed—and worked. Singapore and its climate challenges are unique. It was a bold and audacious program to even take on, if not a bit controversial, but it was successfully deployed to great fanfare and it was a real boost for the company.
It was a beyond-major milestone. For the deployment of sustainable cooling solutions, I’ve never been able to dodge questions about air conditioning and HVAC given its global impact. And having dodged it for so many years, to finally take on a program of this magnitude and then installing it and seeing that it worked, it was just incredible.
3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
I tend to self-coffee at home or at work, but if I had to say my favorite coffee shop it would probably have to be La Farm. We know the owners. Our kids went to preschool together. He’s French. My wife is fluent in French so we’ve known and admired their growth story and the coffee and the pastries—and the food is fantastic.
4. What keeps you up at night?
Global tension between the U.S. and China. That simple. I manufacture my chips in America, proud to do so, but I have a global customer base disproportionately driven by cooling needs in China and Southeast Asia, in particular. Any tension between the U.S. and China is an ever-present concern for me.
Independent of politics, trade between Asia, particularly China, and America has not been fair for a long time. And it’s being addressed, sometimes violently, sometimes quietly, but it’s being addressed. And as an entrepreneur, part of the success of my company is dependent upon a global market, that’s what keeps me up at night—that those tensions are kept calm. But I’m not saying those tensions aren’t needed.
5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
I’ll say BIN Fifty-Four, which is a steakhouse in Chapel Hill. I don’t really go to happy hour as much with three kids at home. But when I did go to happy hour, I very much liked going to Lonerider out by the airport.
6. What is next for you or your organization?
Southeast Asian expansion. Based on the heels of that deployment in October and November, it generated a tremendous interest in our cooling solutions across all of our portfolios out of Southeast Asia. So what’s next is to exploit that opportunity to turn what was a great buzz into actual revenue and growth.
We have a global investor group that quite literally allowed discretion to locate Phononic anywhere on the planet. We chose to establish our HQ and manufacturing hub right here in RTP and we’re proud of that decision. We’re preparing to support the market opportunity in Southeast Asia through the tech and manufacturing development that’s done here in RTP.