photo of Beth Hartman

October 12, 2015
Posted by Beth Hartman, Electric Power Research Institute

After several months getting more familiar with many of the inspiring organizations in the Incubatenergy Network, we've noticed a few key strengths that they all share in supporting clean energy entrepreneurs driving innovation in the industry. These strengths are summarized in our first report on clean energy incubator best practices, which highlights examples of achievement in the following three main areas:

  • Company portfolio such as application process, graduation, and funding;
  • Regional impact such as job creation and economic development; and
  • Connecting services such as mentorship, corporate partnerships, technical support, events, and engagements with universities.

Through supporting entrepreneurs in these three key areas, clean energy incubators can lead the way to greater success for early-stage clean energy companies, helping promising technologies to more quickly demonstrate their value, scale up production, and gain mass adoption.

The report includes metrics and supporting case study examples from the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI), the Clean Energy Trust (CET) in Chicago, the LA Cleantech Incubator (LACI), and NextEnergy in Detroit, along with the Energy Excelerator in Hawaii, Greentown Labs in New England, the New England Clean Energy Council, and Oregon BEST in the Pacific Northwest. Download the full report for all the details, or check out some highlights below!

Company Portfolio

The FreeWire Mobi Charger getting a Nissan Leaf ready for the road.

Leading clean energy incubators around the country support the top entrepreneurs in the industry, which can be clearly seen through evaluating the rigorous review process and low acceptance rates at these incubators. Providing support to top entrepreneurs leads to higher levels of success for these companies in terms of funding, corporate partnerships, and more.

For example, one of the companies supported by both the Energy Excelerator and LACI is FreeWire. The company's mobile electric vehicle (EV) charging solution (Mobi) is being piloted in a program at the LinkedIn HQ campus in a collaborative program with Siemens. For FreeWire, the partnership with LinkedIn is helping to refine the solution and prove the benefits of its expanded EV charging service before this offering is expanded to other companies in the region.

Regional Impact

The FreeWire Mobi Charger getting a Nissan Leaf ready for the road.

Another great success story is Lucid Energy, supported by Oregon BEST. The company is currently engaged in programs with the City of Portland and several other end users to prove the success of their in-pipe hydro turbine technology for capturing energy from water flowing through pipelines. The Portland installation is demonstrating the LucidPipe Power System's ability to deliver modeled energy production at a fraction of the cost of solar. As a result, Lucid's CEO recently stated that they are "inundated with interest," from other communities, and more North American programs are in the works. Connections made through Oregon BEST helped lead to this opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of the company's technology, which in turn provides the regional organization with a great success story to share.

With such strong companies supported by clean energy incubators around the country, it's no surprise that these organizations are having a significant positive impact on their regional economies. For example, the ATI economic development report, issued in collaboration with CleanTX, a regional development agency, highlights how the clean tech sector has contributed to economic growth and opportunities in the central Texas region. It concludes that the sector contributes approximately $2.5 billion to the region's gross domestic product and employs nearly 20,000 individuals in the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area. The Clean Energy Trust in Chicago also collaborated on an economic impact report showing significant positive benefit to Illinois overall.

Connecting Services

The FreeWire Mobi Charger getting a Nissan Leaf ready for the road.

Finally, along with positive economic impact and helping to make connections with corporate partners, incubators can help entrepreneurs connect with other resources. Networking at events can help entrepreneurs find many of the resources they need, including not only mentors and investors, but also other incubator or accelerator programs that can complement the support they've already received.

For example, SkySpecs, which NextEnergy has supported through matchmaking, fundraising support, and strategy consulting, also went through the Techstars accelerator program in New York and won the 2014 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. Being supported by these prestigious programs has helped the company receive additional recognition and market visibility, including a feature article in TechCrunch.

Finally, providing technical support to clean energy entrepreneurs, such as helping companies file for patents and intellectual property licenses, is another critical connecting function for some incubators. One company that has received a great amount of technical support from incubators, including CET and NextEnergy, is Accio Energy, which has developed an off-shore wind technology that generates electricity using wind and charged water mist. Accio was a finalist in the 2015 Clean Energy Trust Challenge and has also presented at several other large energy conferences including the 2015 ARPA-E Innovation Summit.

In conclusion, clean energy incubators use many strategies to support entrepreneurs in driving innovation in the industry. You can learn more by downloading the entire report. This first white paper is intended to provide an initial overview of the metrics that members of the Incubatenergy Network use to assess their success. It addresses metrics relating to company performance, regional impact, and connecting services and provides case studies. Future white papers will explore each of these three main areas of support in greater detail.