Forbes recently rolled out its 30 under 30 in Energy list in January. This annual round up, conducted by Forbes and evaluated by three energy industry judges, highlights the country’s top young talent focused on solving our energy challenges. Included in the 2017 class are six innovators who have participated in or worked with a number of the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) programs.
EERE programs support clean energy entrepreneurs and innovators at many different stages of their technologies' development. However, these opportunities are also important to giving younger energy innovators a seat at the table. When asked what advice those named to this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list have for other young innovators, here’s what they had to say.
Elizabeth Barno, 26, Community Director for Greentown Labs
Greentown Labs is a member of the Incubatenergy Network
“When it comes to starting a company, especially in energy where a lot of traditional systems already exist, it’s really important to validate the market you’re entering. Often we work with companies started by inventors who are looking to take their innovation to the next level. But what results is a technology looking for a customer. Instead, validate the potential market for your technology while you’re developing it and building the company. Putting that work in early makes the road a little bit easier when you’re going to market.”
Anthony Diamond, 29, and Amrit Robbins, 27, Cofounders of Axiom Exergy
Anthony: “Successfully launching a new cleantech business is about finding a great team. Many technologists or scientists have the tendency to go at it alone, but the nature of working on hardware innovations requires a log of bandwidth and businesses have more facets than just product development or business model origination. You need to find people who can balance your perspectives on how to best build the organization.”
Amrit: “If you want to build a business, go out and get third party validation for your technology, team and product-market fit. Get it for your technology by working with outside researchers to test and validate the product. Validate your team by showing that you have the ability to recruit excellent people as employees and advisors. Prove your product market fit by getting a customer to sign a contract or letter of intent. This will enable you to provide third-party evidence for your key claims when talking to prospective employees, customers, or investors. You can connect with these invaluable 'validators' by participating in business plan competitions like FLoW and "the Cleantech Open.”
Richard Wang, 27, CEO of Cuberg
“Cleantech startups like mine evolve over time. But, if you have a good idea, then pursue it. There’s a lot of support available through business plan competitions and programs like Cyclotron Road. Competitions especially give you a lower pressure arena to test out your pitch and gain helpful and diverse feedback from the industry experts serving as judges.”
Raymond Weitekamp, 28, CEO of polySpectra
Participant at 2013 Caltech FLoW competition and Cyclotron Road entrepreneur at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
“My advice to young cleantech innovators is to keep their projects in the lab for as long as possible. It is easy to underestimate how much work is required to take something from an academic paper to a minimum viable product. Find a program like Cyclotron Road to help you make the transition—it is a way smarter approach than trying to find investors right away.”
Christopher Hopper, 29, Co-Founder of Aurora Solar
Recipient of two U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative Incubator awards
"Working in clean energy is not always easy, and every one of us in this space has and will encounter headwinds—economically, structurally, and politically. Don't let yourself be swayed. The only sustainable future is one powered by clean energy, and initiative, hard work, and dedication will get us there."
Sustaining American competitiveness in a global energy economy means creating the space for the best and brightest, no matter their age, to test and validate their new solutions. EERE applauds these six young innovators for leading the way and inspiring others in their generation to take on America’s current and future energy challenges.