Innovation is one of America’s greatest renewable resources, which is why EERE supports innovators through funding, training, and research opportunities. After all, U.S. entrepreneurs and small businesses are essential to the domestic production of clean energy technologies and creating a clean energy economy.
For National Entrepreneurship Week, we’re listing some of the ways EERE supports entrepreneurs, who are also Clean Energy Champions working toward a better future.
The American-Made Challenges help innovators win cash prizes to start small businesses and rapidly transform their clean energy technology ideas into prototypes in months, not years. Competitors can access technical and business expertise from about 250 organizations in the American-Made Network. To date, through the American-Made Challenges, the Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded nearly $100 million in prizes and national lab vouchers across almost 30 competitions.
While many prizes have supported the creation of small businesses that advance renewable energy technologies such as solar, water, and geothermal, DOE recently launched the $2.5 million Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize to foster clean energy entrepreneurship in underrepresented communities.
Seed Funding for Small Businesses
EERE’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs have awarded more than $270 million since 2014 to more than 700 U.S. small businesses in clean energy fields. Recent SBIR awardees include Keystone Tower Systems, which is building cost-effective, highly efficient wind towers; Fend, whose low-cost cybersecurity technology protects large-scale solar plants from hackers; and eSpin, which is developing electrospinning nanofibers for fuel cell membranes.
Funding Opportunities and Initiatives
Throughout the year, EERE technology offices announce funding opportunities worth millions of dollars to advance research, development, and demonstration projects. In 2018, the Geothermal Technologies Office awarded $1 million to the University of Texas at Austin to build a hub for entrepreneurial researchers and engineers to launch startups that work toward commercializing geothermal technologies that harness clean, renewable power from below the earth’s surface. Find current open funding opportunities on EERE’s Funding Opportunity page.
Additionally, women in clean energy can access leadership opportunities through the DOE-led Clean Energy, Education, & Empowerment Initiative (C3E), which has recognized nearly 80 mid-career women for their field accomplishments. One of these women is 2021 U.S. Entrepreneurship Award winner Steph Speirs, founder of Solstice, which brings affordable, clean energy to U.S. households through community-shared solar farms. Nominations for the 2022 C3E awards are open—submit by March 10, 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.
National Lab Entrepreneurship Programs
To help bridge the gap between inception and commercialization, EERE’s Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program (LEEP) puts postdoctoral scientists and engineers to work in the national laboratories to further their cutting-edge research and train them to become clean energy entrepreneurs. Through LEEP, EERE has awarded nearly $50 million to more than 100 entrepreneurs.
For example, Karin Calvinho helped develop a device at Argonne National Laboratory’s Chain Reaction Innovations that converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into monoethylene glycol plastics used to make polyester and bottles. Her company went on to receive a $1.15 million SBIR award. At Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Cyclotron Road, Marcus Lehmann worked on wave energy converter designs for use in remote areas or on small, local energy grids. His company then received $7.5 million from DOE for open-water testing. Anna Douglas, a graduate of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Innovation Crossroads, launched a startup that develops electrochemical manufacturing technology to convert CO2 into components for batteries and other products.
To accelerate innovations that make buildings more climate-friendly, the Incubating Market-Propelled Entrepreneurial Mindset at the Labs and Beyond program provides participants—50% of whom have been women or people of color—with coaching from leaders in investing, the tech industry, and the federal government to transform prototypes into market-ready technologies.
Equitably transitioning America to a clean energy future requires the nation’s best and brightest. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or looking for clean energy jobs, EERE invites you and your innovative spirit to join the clean energy revolution.