Infinite Careers is a collaboration between Career Services (CAPD) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.
- University of Iowa
- Mathematics and Chemistry (2007)
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- S.M. TPP (2010)
- S.M. Mechanical Engineering (Course 2) (2010)
- Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering (Course 2) (2015)
Dr. Addison Killean Stark is the CEO and co-founder of AtmosZero, an industrial decarbonization start-up. He has worked between the research, business and policy worlds to drive the development and adoption of low-, zero- and negative-carbon energy technologies.
Prior to founding AtmosZero, Dr. Stark was Director for Energy+Environment at Clark Street Associates, a strategic consulting firm that helps growth-stage hardtech companies partner with government to develop first-of-a-kind projects and scale to market impact quickly.
Dr. Stark has also worked at the intersection of energy innovation policy and led these efforts as Associate Director for Energy Innovation at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) working on policies that became parts of the Energy Act of 2020, the bipartisan infrastructure deal, and the inflation reduction act.
After finishing his PhD at MIT, Dr. Stark served as a Fellow at the US Department of Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) focusing on early-stage energy technology development and R&D across sectors including renewable fuels, green industrial chemistry, dry-cooling technologies for water conservation in power generation and leveraging advanced manufacturing for the fabrication of energy devices. While at ARPA-E, he also served as Acting Program Director for ARPA-E’s $33 million Energy-Water Nexus portfolio.
Dr. Stark is the author of multiple peer reviewed journal articles and popular press pieces on diverse topics in energy technology innovation including: industrial decarbonization, energy-water nexus, leveraging additive manufacturing for chemical reactor design, and innovation in energy technology and finance.
Dr. Stark received his bachelors degrees in mathematics and chemistry from the University of Iowa and masters degrees in technology and public policy and mechanical engineering from MIT. He received his PhD in mechanical engineering from MIT in 2015.
What influenced your choice of undergraduate major? How has it shaped your career choices and professional ability?
In my last year at Iowa I had the opportunity to serve as the elected Vice President of the Student Body. In this role I got involved in a committee that set the university’s energy and sustainability policy including very aggressive goals for increasing renewable energy percentages over a few years. It was through this experience that I realized that you can’t make energy policy decisions without deep understanding of the technology options available to you and their physical and economic limits.
Because of this experience I started to scour the internet and speak to every faculty member I knew about where I could find a graduate program that focused on this and I was lucky to find the Technology and Policy Program (TPP) here at MIT, where I could develop my understanding of policy more fully while still pursuing research in advanced energy technology development through graduate degrees in Mechanical Engineering.
Completing my PhD in Mechanical Engineering has given me the analytical and technical depth and problem solving skills to analyze any energy system using physical laws, but it is the holistic view of economics, law, and policy from TPP that has allowed me to recognize and address the other challenging aspects of the energy transition – the human ones.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Starting a company with the potential for global-scale impact has given me the drive to work harder and faster than I ever have before (apologies to my my PhD advisor, Ahmed Ghoniem, for never working this hard in grad school…). However, when I look at what I’m doing now it’s clearly a cumulation of the skills I developed in my previous roles – funding early-stage high-risk high-reward projects while at ARPA-E, working on the policies that are now law via the Inflation Reduction Act while I was at the Bipartisan Policy Center, etc. So I suppose the most rewarding aspect of my career is that my random walk up to this point is now serving a purpose!
What motivates you to do the work that you do?
I work in climate, so motivation is very easy. It turns out that it’s very easy to find alignment and motivation in every person who joins my company for the same reason.
Making decisions, especially important-feeling career decisions, is really challenging for people at all stages of their career. What strategies have you used to make career decisions?
I have often joked that my academic career and then professional career has been a random walk. I’ve always just gone and done the next thing that looked interesting and new. For a time I was concerned that too much random walk would mean that there wouldn’t be a fast enough progression into the kind of leadership position I wanted to achieve to make impact. However, now looking back, it was clear that by doing what was most interesting all over the map meant that I built up a large base of knowledge that gave me the confidence to start a company.
What professional development experiences or opportunities shaped your early career?
The MIT Energy Club and Conference was the most important opportunity for me early on to be exposed to the breadth of the energy sector and all of its facets. Also, the people I met and worked with in the Energy Club constitute the bedrock of my professional network.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
Bill Bonvillian (former director of the MIT Washington Office, and leading thinker in the innovation policy space) once told me “if the job doesn’t exist, write it into existence.”
Often times, when you work in an interdisciplinary field you come up to the edge of the trodden path where it’s not clear where you go next to do what you want to do. This is what I did before building my company, I wrote a perspective piece in Joule outlining the challenges and opportunities to decarbonizing the industrial sector. This created the thesis through which investors funded our company.
What career advice do you have for current MIT students, or those interested in entering your industry?
Don’t be afraid to cold email, or slip into their LinkedIn DMs. If you see a company that’s doing something cool and you want to be part of it, but don’t know exactly how you might fit in, just reach out. Particularly with early-stage companies, the leadership team is still trying to figure out exactly how to staff all the efforts they know they need to do, and a technically competent (MIT) and driven (cold email) candidate might be exactly what they need i that moment.