DOE Funds Five Technology Commercialization 'Ecosystems'

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) last week announced the selection of five projects to build and strengthen "innovation ecosystems" meant to accelerate the movement of cutting-edge energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies from university laboratories into the market.

This is the first time the DOE is funding this type of university-based commercialization effort. 

The ecosystems are designed to foster collaborative environments, bringing together key players from universities, the private sector, the federal government and Department of Energy National Laboratories to identify and develop new clean energy technologies and help them succeed in the marketplace.

The projects will receive a total of $5.3 million in federal funding over three years, which will be leveraged with grantee investments to support $9 million in total projects.

"The innovative clean energy start-up companies supported by these ecosystems will advance American competitiveness and will help create the jobs of the future," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.

The innovation ecosystem projects are led by universities or nonprofits based in five states, and convene a total of 80 project partners.

Clean Energy Trust (Chicago, Ill.) – $1,050,000 – In collaboration with the Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Clean Energy Trust will establish the Illinois Cleantech Ecosystem Consortium to initiate four separate university-based programs. They include the "Clean Energy Business Plan Competition" in which Illinois scientists and entrepreneurs will compete for $100,000 in seed funds and business services; the "Clean Energy Boot Camp" where new entrepreneurs will receive immersion training and develop new networks; a sector-specific business development support program that will provide assistance to new entrepreneurs and start-up ventures, including market and product strategy, legal assistance, customer introductions, and financial modeling; and a program to promote and raise awareness of existing and new regional energy resources such as an index of key organizations, relevant funding sources, and Illinois-based innovation achievements.

Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (Cambridge, Mass.) – $1,050,000 – Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems will expand the Fraunhofer TechBridge program and establish the Energy Innovation Acceleration Program (IAP) to foster clean technology innovation. The IAP will combine the capabilities of Fraunhofer USA with the New England Clean Energy Council (NECEC) and the Association of Cleantech Incubators of New England (ACTION) to streamline commercialization of university-originated technologies. IAP will connect university projects across New England with R&D services, experienced entrepreneurs, capital sources, and incubator services to help build businesses and raise funds to develop commercial products and successful ventures. The Program will also partner with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and will draw advisors and potential business partners from large U.S. corporations, venture capital firms, and other strategic stakeholders.

University of California, San Diego (San Diego, Calif.) – $1,050,000 – The University of California, San Diego’s William J. von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Advancement and Rady School of Management will partner with San Diego State University to plan and hold an annual Regional Energy Innovation Challenge. After establishing an expert advisory board to develop criteria and solicit applications, the board will screen and select promising teams comprised of experienced advisors, faculty, science and business students; conduct a commercialization boot camp for applicant teams to refine their commercialization plans; and award fellowship opportunities to three teams. Winning teams will showcase their technologies and commercialization plans to connect to potential sources of capital. A virtual network will also be developed to connect innovators, business students, entrepreneurs and sources of capital to each other and to other initiatives within the clean energy space on campus, in the region, and worldwide.

University of Central Florida (Orlando, Fla.) – $1,050,000 – The University of Central Florida will hold the "MegaWatt Ventures" event, incorporating a technical showcase with a business plan competition and business and prototyping services. Ten teams will be selected by a committee of energy industry experts, angel and venture capital investors, and entrepreneurial executives experienced with early-stage companies. Over two years, teams will tap into the intellectual property portfolios and research expertise held by Florida universities. Each year ten teams will be awarded $10,000 each, and will be given six months to complete a prototype and assemble a start-up team to compete for $100,000. In its third year, MegaWatt Ventures will be expanded to include all universities in the southeastern United States.

University of Utah (Salt Lake City, Utah) – $1,050,000 – The University of Utah will create the Energy Innovation Commercialization Center that will assist participating western universities and research institutions in transferring and commercializing university-developed technologies to industry and start-up companies. The Center will provide resources such as mentoring, proof-of-concept validation, prototype guidance and access to the University of Utah’s Technology Commercialization Office and its Venture Bench Program, which provides services to start-up companies to accelerate prototype and product development. The Center will identify industry and market needs in order to fund the most promising technologies while mitigating market risk, and will develop tools to help understand and quantify the impacts of technologies on job creation, fossil fuel dependence, and climate change.

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