Innovation Crossroads Launches to Develop the Next Generation of Clean Energy Entrepreneurs

September 20, 2016

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We need an energy revolution—a revolution that will mitigate the impact of climate change while providing affordable and reliable energy to everyone, and transition the United States and the world to a clean energy future.

Here in the U.S., innovators are developing breakthrough technologies that will transform how we generate, store, and consume energy. But developing these game-changing energy technologies isn’t easy. For even the most promising clean energy innovations there are a number of barriers that stand in the way of becoming a viable technology—most importantly, the innovators behind the budding technologies often lack the entrepreneurial ‘know-how’ to scale their ideas.  

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The Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program: Developing the Next Generation of Cleantech Entrepreneurs
 

In 2014, the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) piloted a new model for training budding cleantech entrepreneurs at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory called Cyclotron Road. The model’s unique approach embedded a group of clean energy innovators with budding technology ideas but little practical experience in developing them in the world-class facilities at Berkeley Lab, while providing them with entrepreneurial training and access to business partners. This dual focus on research and development (R&D) and the soft skills needed to scale their technologies provided them with the experience needed to take their ideas from the lab and onto the pathway to commercialization.

EERE's Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program (LEEP) is modeled after the successful pilot at Cyclotron Road. Sponsored by EERE's Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) and co-managed by EERE’s Technology-to-Market Program, LEEP continues to expand, with Cyclotron Road now running their second cohort, and the second LEEP node, Chain Reaction Innovations launched in early 2016 at Argonne National Laboratory.

This week EERE announced the launch of the third LEEP node, Innovation Crossroads at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

"There is a huge opportunity and need to develop an ecosystem where cleantech entrepreneurs can thrive," said Mark Johnson, director of EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office. "EERE’s Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program gives today's clean energy innovators a chance to make a transformative impact on the way we generate, process, and use our energy resources. Innovation Crossroads will play an important role in strengthening the Southeast region's entrepreneurial ecosystem."

Innovation Crossroads: A New Home for American Cleantech Entrepreneurs

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Innovation Crossroads will select up to five energy innovators to explore their technology ideas at ORNL, providing the resources they need to develop viable clean energy businesses. ORNL is DOE’s largest science and energy laboratory, and home to some of the nation’s most significant user facilities, including the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, the Spallation Neutron Source, and the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.

“ORNL has an excellent reputation for collaborating with industry and moving innovation to the commercial marketplace,” said ORNL Director Thom Mason. “We look forward to expanding our focus to include clean energy entrepreneurship. We recognize that growing new energy technology companies is not easy: entrepreneurs need to develop and validate technologies, build prototypes, secure customers, and raise several rounds of capital. Support from Innovation Crossroads can significantly improve the prospects for promising new energy ventures.” 

With up to two years of funding from ORNL and EERE, innovators will have the opportunity to focus full-time on their energy technologies, R&D collaborations with top ORNL researchers, entrepreneurial training and mentoring, and connection with potential industry partners and investors.

“Cleantech entrepreneurs selected for the inaugural Innovations Crossroads cohort will have access to the ONRL’s one-of-a-kind resources and facilities.” says Johanna Wolfson, Director of EERE’s Technology-to-Market Program. “The combination of having top technical talent embedded in a world-class R&D facility, and maintaining a laser focus on entrepreneurial endeavors is creating a new generation of energy entrepreneurs working to bring really challenging solutions to fruition.”

For more information about the program, visit innovationcrossroads.ornl.gov.