Featured Alumnus Gilman Callsen ’04


Featured Alumnus Gilman Callsen ’04

Featured Alumnus Gilman Callsen ’04

Real visionaries are those who aren’t afraid to hold out for what they believe in, despite no guaranteed financial success. Visionaries forge their own path, knowing that they have something worth fighting for. Visionaries also surround themselves with others who can contribute to the success of their vision, knowing they can’t go it alone. Avon Old Farms alumnus Gilman Callsen ’04 is proving to be a visionary, and he’s got a team of Avonians standing with him as he aims to make a big impact.

A graduate of Yale University, Gilman has never been one to paint himself into a corner, thanks to a few wise words from a NASA physicist. “After Avon, I originally thought about studying physics at Carnegie Mellon or Johns Hopkins. I had already been accepted to both and was set on Johns Hopkins when I got into Yale when a few words from my NASA mentor came to mind: ‘Choose your undergrad to focus on education. Choose your Master’s program to get trained.’ I realized that Yale would be a better place for building a wide educational base, instead of focusing on specializing early, and so I chose Yale.”

Interestingly enough, an undergrad degree in physics quickly revealed itself to be a poor fit. Gilman switched his declared major to psychology—a program which allowed much more creativity with his course load. From computational linguistics and computer science to negotiation, Gilman curated his own slate of classes and flexed his muscle for entrepreneurship. There was even a bumper sticker business on Cafe Press for a while, but during the trip home from his junior year at Yale, the wheels really started turning.

“I was exhausted from just finishing exams. Riding in a van to the airport, all I wanted to do was close my eyes and sleep in the car, but the sun was blazing through the window in such an annoying way that I couldn’t. I began to think about how amazing it would be if I could somehow choose to darken the glass so I could rest my eyes, and then lighten it again when I wanted to.”

That idea stuck with him, and Gilman quickly researched if such a thing might exist. That summer, he found such a project in the works at the University of Washington. “It's called electrochromics: where the color or opacity of a material changes when a voltage is applied. I ended up calling the university and somehow convinced them that I was serious enough about the project that we began negotiating an option on the technology.”

Along the way, Gilman learned that a similar project was in the works at UConn—a much easier partnership, given the geography—and ended up negotiating an option with that team instead. He received grant money and awards for business plans during his senior year at Yale, forming the company Chromic Decor in 2007 licensing electrochromic polymer technology for applications in improving building energy efficiency. By 2008, a Boston-based investor convinced Gilman to work on another line of business, and Chromic Decor became MC10, which worked not only with electrochromics but also developed stretchable, flexible electronics primarily for medical applications.

“It was actually extremely lucky that I shifted to MC10, as Chromic Decor focused on residential spaces, and the housing market crash of 2008 would have proven to be devastating to my previous venture.”

At the same time, Gilman’s personal life was also taking off: he was engaged to fellow Yale grad Katrina, and together they moved to Boston after graduation. When Katrina received a full scholarship to the University of Virginia’s School of Law a few years later, Gilman tried splitting time between Virginia and Boston but quickly realized such a commute wasn’t sustainable.

“At that point, a leader at MC10 asked me to help with a side project: NASCAR. I had never even seen a race, but was eager to learn a new space, especially as I could stay home in Virginia with Katrina.”

By 2012, that side project had a formal name: Pit Rho: a real-time, in-race strategy tool used in the NASCAR Cup Series. Pit Rho ingests competitors’ lap time and pitstop data into a series of machine and deep learning models that predict a wide range of race variables, including competitors’ behaviors, and recommends optimum race strategy on every lap for any car in the field based on those predicted behaviors.

“I worked on the project for eight months without pay until we eventually got support from GM and we became profitable. After several years, we rebranded as Rho AI, and expanded our offerings into other industries, from finance to energy to healthcare. That whole transformation from one business to the next really fits my MO: I enjoy collaborating with people who know a lot more about a subject than I do. As a company I got what I wanted, which was to work in a wide variety of industries.”

Throughout his various ventures, Gilman’s businesses mostly operated as a consulting agency for others. In 2016, he made a conscious effort to steer the company in a direction that was important to him: energy conservation and climate work.

“Impact-related work has always been a passion of mine, which goes back to my grandfather’s influence of conservation-based philanthropy. So, I scaled back and refocused our energies. I split Pit Rho and Rho Impact into two separate projects, the latter having a defined focus on climate and impact work.”

Gilman also explains that at this point, another Avonian, Noah Miller ’06, was essential to the Rho Impact story. Having seen Gilman’s work with the free corporate climate impact tool, CRANE, via LinkedIn, Noah reached out.

“Noah has been deeply involved in and is a recognized thought-leader in the ESG space, having led the curriculum development for multiple industry specific ESG (environmental, social, and governance) certification programs. At the time he reached out, I had been asking my team if there was anywhere for our business to grow in the ESG space, and when Noah and I spoke, his answer was a resounding yes.”

Over the course of a quick eight months, Gilman and Noah—along with the help of fellow Avonians Xander Rothaus ’04 on the marketing end and Wes Jayne ’04  on the logistics side—had Rho Impact operating with both a software product as well as full advisory capacity for businesses interested in not only meeting industry regulations and shareholder expectations, but also scaling up while planning, tracking, and reporting process for their ESG impact strategies. 

Today, Gilman is the founder and CEO of Rho Impact, and Noah is the chief strategist and head of ESG advisory services. They have some big events on the horizon, but Gilman is the first person to say he hasn’t gotten to the role of CEO all on his own…nor any of the other four career titles he’s held that include the term ‘founder.’ What it’s taken is a curiosity for the world, how it works, and partnering with the right people.

“I get pinged all of the time on LinkedIn, and I don’t look at most of it. But when Noah reached out, I saw that he was a fellow Avonian, and that was enough for me, no matter what he wanted to talk about. And it’s the same with my other classmates: Wes and Xander are just helping me out because I had no idea when it came to marketing or logistics, and if they ever need my assistance on anything they’re working on, they know I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

From running networking wires through Eagle Dormitory as a school job to focusing on the future of what it means to be a responsible company, Gilman’s life has been a whirlwind of activity since 2004. But he also is mindful to be present for the smaller but equally important things: he volunteers as a coach for his sons’ rec teams: Lucius is 8, and Bennett is 6. During COVID, he picked up the guitar he’s owned since high school and finally learned to play, saying it’s now his favorite part of the day. It also helps that some of his best Avon buddies are there supporting his dreams.

“It’s funny actually. It’s hard for me to not think of these guys as my high school buddies, but then I remember how successful they are and that they’re true professionals making it in the world. Having their support as I grow my business is an amazing gift, and that’s because of Avon.”