Member Spotlight – July 25, 2014

A Q&A with Melinda Sims, CTO, Loci Controls

melinda-sims-loci-controlsMost people don’t think about what happens to our waste once it’s picked up at the curb, but Melinda Sims does. Melinda is the chief technology officer of Loci Controls, which provides services to landfills and landfill gas-to-energy plants. She has a strong background in environmental services, as well as a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from MIT.

The garbage in landfills creates a significant amount of methane and CO² as it is broken down. Rather than let these greenhouse gases escape into the air, landfills collect it, and in many cases use it to generate power. The collection systems are complex and difficult to constantly adjust. Loci Controls has developed a system that can drastically improve the efficiency and effectiveness of collecting landfill gases, thereby reducing emissions into the air and improving energy output of landfill gas-to-energy plants.  

Rapid Fire

Favorite restaurant in Somerville? What makes you happy?
Union Square Donuts The smell of sawdust just edges out the smell of machine shop oil on the happy scale – nothing more satisfying than a day of working with your hands. Or power tools.

Power tools preferable to hand work, really, if we’re being honest.

Favorite season?

Dream vacation?
I love the fall. I like living where the trees change colors – green to brown doesn’t count. I love traveling, there are so many cool places in this world to visit. Next on the list is either the Amazon rainforest, or the mountains in Nepal.

My Company

How did your company start?

The idea for Loci Controls actually started out as a request from a landfill in New York, asking for help to extract more methane from their existing system. I was in the middle of grad school at the time, but the problem intrigued me. Once I started working on it, I realized that a solution for that site could also be useful for all landfills.

Towards the end of my PhD, I met Andy Campanella, Loci Controls co-founder, at the MIT Trust Center for Entrepreneurship. We shared similar interests in energy and were both looking for ways to make a difference in that field. As we were brainstorming we realized that we had the right combination of skills to address the problems that landfills face. We worked together during the summer of 2012 at the MIT Founders’ Skills Accelerator, got to know each other, and decided to keep going after that.

What is top of mind right now in your company development?

Melinda with a Loci installation at their pilot site
Melinda with a Loci installation at their pilot site

We’re doing pilot testing at the Crapo Hill landfill in New Bedford, MA. The key question we need to answer right now is how much more gas a landfill can produce and capture with our technology. This will help us identify the value proposition for future customers.


Working in the field has all sorts of challenges, everything from bird poop to bulldozers! We’re learning a lot, the system is more robust, and we’re really excited about the results we are getting. The next step for us is to expand to other sites in New England area.

What makes Massachusetts a great place to start a business? 

There are a lot of great programs here; we were in MassChallenge in 2013, and then shortly thereafter, we were one of the first companies that Bolt accepted. Bolt helped us be providing resources and shop space, and supported us through fundraising. We were a finalist in the Haverhill Hardware Horizons Challenge in fall 2013, and the MassCEC awarded us a Catalyst grant in early 2014. We raised a seed round of financing in February 2014 which allowed us to add two full time team members and expand our prototyping hardware. We have four interns this summer, supported by MassTech Intern Partnership and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Internship Program. Massachusetts is our home and we are proud to be building our company here in Somerville.

My Work

What motivates you?

I love building things. I’ve always loved building things. I’m a mechanical engineer by background. The most powerful thing for me is to have an idea, something that was just an idea and did not exist before, and make it a reality you can hold in your hands. How cool is that?

My role involves a lot of business stuff, but the days when I get to work in the shop or be in the field are my favorite days!

What do you like about your team?

The Loci Controls team (L-R): Nathan Pallo, Melinda Sims, Ian Martin, and Andrew Campanella
The Loci Controls team (L-R): Nathan Pallo, Melinda Sims, Ian Martin, and Andrew Campanella

It’s wonderful, we have really great people on our team. In the early days when Andy and I founded the company, there’s only two of you so nothing is going to get done unless you are doing it yourself. Now progress is being made by everyone, and so when I look up from my work, there have been huge gains all around without me having to be involved at all! It’s also great to have more people who have different skill sets. When you are just starting, you do the best you can in every area, but once you start growing you can bring people who are really talented at specific skills.

My Greentown Labs

What brought you to Greentown Labs?

From a practical point of view, it’s the only place with prototyping space. I knew Emily from MIT, and I had met Jason Hanna at events at Greentown 2.0. I know how strongly they feel about building the community here, so when we graduated from Bolt, it was a no brainer!

What’s something that has surprised you about Greentown Labs?

What I did not expect was how much the space can positively influence the morale and productivity. It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes to have plenty of elbow room in the lab space for building things, and dedicated desks. We are proud to bring over customers and visitors and show off not only our own work, but everyone here who are all doing such cool things.

What Greentown Labs resources do you currently use?

The software is fantastic; we use Matlab, Solidworks and we’re really excited about the new Altium sponsorship! Also pretty excited about the 40 percent discount at Brooklyn Boulders

My Advice

What advice would you give to a hardware entrepreneur?

Only jump into a startup if you’re going to love the journey and process, not just success – because you need to love what you are doing during both success and failure.

What would help someone thrive at Greentown Labs?

Make new coffee when it runs out!