Passion, Focus Spark Career in Clean Energy

Engineer inspecting pulsed power machine chamber in nuclear fusion facility

Not everyone was sold on Josh Sweetin’s Capstone topic, but they had to agree on one point: it was certainly ambitious.

A 2023 graduate of the Master’s in Public Relations & Corporate Communications program at Georgetown University, Sweetin has long been fascinated by the growing clean-energy sector and once worked with a public relations firm that specializes in the industry. When considering Capstone topics, he asked everyone he could think of in the District of Columbia’s rather close-knit alternative energy community a simple question: “What companies get you excited?”

One name kept popping up: Zap Energy, one of a handful of companies developing nuclear fusion technology. That technology, Sweetin later wrote, is “a clean-energy solution attracting substantial funding and interest due to its potential to offer limitless, abundantly available clean energy.”

Still a Ways to Go

Josh Sweetin
Josh Sweetin (G’23)

There were (and still are) just two complications. While the research and funding for these alternatives are growing tremendously, as of mid-2024 no one has actually produced nuclear fusion for more than a nanosecond. Which means that, for now, at least: no product and no customers.

“The joke in fusion is that fusion is 20 years away,” Sweetin says. “And it always will be.”

However, at some point, judging by the growing interest and billions invested in fusion energy, that joke may become obsolete. Since 2021, for example, the number of nuclear fusion companies in the market has grown by 40 percent.

For Zap Energy, one of the smaller players, that is both a good and a bad thing.

“Such gains are healthy to accelerate technological progress but can also present challenges for companies to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market,” writes Sweetin, who was hired as a Senior Consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton in late 2023. “Nuclear fusion companies must emphasize clear beneficial distinctions in their technology to excel in a growing, competitive landscape.”

Sweetin’s Capstone shows ways that Zap Energy can improve its competitive advantage. The company is already differentiating itself with its unique and innovative technology, he says. The next step is to explain these developments to potential investors—what he calls “Decision Makers with Direct Energy-Related Influence” (DMDEIs)—at Fortune 500 companies.

His Capstone presents a detailed communications strategy that includes, among other things: scheduling its thought leaders to sit for interviews and speak at conferences; expanding the company’s presence on LinkedIn (potentially a direct conduit to corporate executives); and using digital platforms during energy conferences.

A Different Kind of Nuclear Power

When most of us think about nuclear power we might picture the nuclear power plants dotted across the country. They create power by nuclear fission, the splitting of uranium atoms to create tremendous amounts of heat and energy.

Nuclear fusion, which powers the sun and other stars, occurs when “two light nuclei merge to form a single heavier nucleus,” the U.S. Department of Energy says in an explanatory website. “The process releases energy because the total mass of the resulting single nucleus is less than the mass of the two original nuclei. The leftover mass becomes energy.”

Sweetin says Zap Energy has a competitive edge in the field because its reactors are more compact and do not use the expensive magnets needed for other designs, “promising a lower cost burden for future customers.”

Reading Sweetin’s Capstone, with its highly detailed explanations of the nuclear fusion process, one might assume that he has a degree in engineering, physics, or a related field. He does not, but has acquired this knowledge on his own and by networking with other clean energy advocates.

His Capstone advisor, Leslie Galbreath, Chief Executive Officer for dgs Marketing Engineers, a business-to-business advertising agency that works with advanced manufacturers, says that it is critical, in her highly technical field, to have a working knowledge of the processes involved.

“When you’re working in my field, and in the field that he was working in as a consultant in his Capstone role, you have to speak the language well enough, intelligently enough, and believably enough to engineers who are very familiar with the subject,” Galbreath says. “It’s not enough to have a cursory understanding. You have to get into the subject matter and appreciate and understand it.”

How did Sweetin get his job at Booz Allen Hamilton, where his client is the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency? In 2023, as a student in Faculty Director Carol Blymire’s class in Personal Branding, he heard guest speaker Suzanne Swink talk about her work as Vice President of Government Relations for KORE Power, the leading U.S.-based developer and manufacturer of battery cell technology for clean energy. Swink is also an instructor in the Public Relations & Corporate Communications program.

After her talk, there was a short question-and-answer session.

“Josh and I have never worked together,” Swink says. “But I was impressed with some of the questions he was asking.”

A consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton came across Swink’s faculty biography and asked her which students would be good at doing communications for the Department of Energy, and she “gave him a couple of names,” Swink says. “And Josh’s name was one of those.” And not long after that, he got the job.

It can be unusual to have your ideal position so early in your career. But that’s what Sweetin thinks of his job, which involves using persuasive and business communications skills honed in the Georgetown program to talk to experts about some of the most cutting-edge technology in the clean energy field and explaining those breakthroughs to the public.

“I think the biggest thing with any [new] technology is proving that it’s real,” Sweetin says. “You can say this is great technology. You can come up with fantastic taglines. But what I’ve learned from working [in the energy field] is that you really have to show that the science is there. You have to show that it matters. And you have to show that there’s a public out there that can really benefit from having this technology, or having this technology later on in life.”

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