photo of Beth Hartman

February 18, 2015
Posted by Beth Hartman, Electric Power Research Institute

At the first Clean Energy Incubator Network workshop, last week EPRI convened about 50 leaders from clean energy incubators, investors, and industry stakeholders around the country, to discuss best practices following the ARPA-E Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C. Incubators at the workshop included the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI), Clean Energy Trust (CET) in Chicago, the Energy Excelerator from Hawaii, Greentown Labs from Boston, the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) in California, NextEnergy in Detroit, Oregon BEST, and several others.

These incubators are supporting some of the most innovative early-stage clean energy technologies in the country, from mobile car charging solutions to offshore wind energy produced without turbines. Several companies that have received support from incubators in the network were represented at the ARPA-E Innovation Summit, including Ideal Power, currently valued at around $45 million on the NASDAQ after graduating from ATI; FreeWire, a mobile car charging solution supported by LACI and the Energy Excelerator; and GoElectric, a micro grid company supported by the Energy Excelerator and CET that won major projects in Hawaii and New York. Also supported by CET is LuminAID, which makes inflatable solar powered lights and will be appearing on Shark Tank this Friday! Clean energy incubators discussing best practices at the EPRI workshop

Clean energy incubators discussing best practices at the EPRI workshop

At the incubator workshop following the ARPA-E Summit, one of the key insights we discovered was that all of the incubators are very interested in making stronger connections with corporate partners in energy. These relationships develop over time and are often most successful when each partner gets real value from the interaction, with corporations finding new ideas and talent to help their businesses grow, and incubators able to connect entrepreneurs with opportunities to scale their technologies more quickly.

In addition to corporate partnerships, the incubators discussed other topics like building and sustaining a strong mentor network, working with investors, and the incubator business model overall. When it comes to relationships with mentors and investors, many themes similar to working with corporate partners emerged, such as establishing credibility over time. Funding options for clean energy technologies specifically are often available at the state or federal level, and these initial investments can help lead to larger future funding opportunities. Finally, incubator business models are often real estate and service oriented, and many incubators are established as non-profits to allow for donations that can also benefit the entrepreneurs.

We look forward to sharing more insights in greater detail soon as we build out the network this year!