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Photo of buildings in downtown Detroit, with lines and points drawn connecting them.
Image courtesy of NextEnergy.

By Monica Kanojia

Cleantech start-ups and entrepreneurs help drive economic growth and competitiveness through job creation and technology development. The Department of Energy’s National Incubator Initiative for Clean Energy (NIICE) was established to assist early-stage energy companies address challenges in gathering resources necessary to grow their businesses. The Midwest Energy Accelerator, funded through NIICE, was established by NextEnergy, a Detroit-based nonprofit accelerating technologies that transform how we use energy to live and move, and the Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust as a means to drive energy resilience in the Midwest through technical assistance and training programs geared toward supporting small business owners in working through research and development phases successfully.

NextEnergy, in collaboration with industry, philanthropic entities, the State of Michigan, and federal agencies like DOE, has encouraged significant economic development by attracting more than $1.5 billion in advanced energy and mobility technology investments. In working with more than 400 organizations, Michigan has seen a 600% increase in jobs with the creation, or retention, of 2,100 jobs. The active recruitment of businesses to set up shop in Michigan is largely based on the suite of resources they are given access to, including development of strategic business plans, funding opportunities, research and development assistance, company assessments, and technology vetting.

Small businesses face unique challenges and can have limited ability to leverage opportunities for growth, especially in processes related to the development and implementation of energy efficient technologies. NextEnergy has taken a leadership role in guiding these stakeholders through market analyses, technology road-mapping, and value-chain research, ultimately providing an assessment of the market growth potential for the products and services their businesses offer, as well as identification of promotional pathways.

Mackinac Technology Co., a Michigan-based firm, has developed a novel, cost-effective, retrofit window insulation system that allows daylight to enter residential and commercial buildings while keeping hot and cold air from escaping. The system, which utilizes a durable conducting oxide window film that is highly transparent to visible light, aims to reduce the amount of heating and cooling energy lost through windows by up to 60 percent and reduce a building’s overall energy usage by 10 percent.

Despite the promise behind their technology, Mackinac Technology Co. needed support that would facilitate the commercialization of their product. NextEnergy was able to provide Mackinac Technology Co. with the development of strategic relationships among interested business partners and investors, leading to a project with DOE that came with an added benefit of funding.

Receiving market recognition is important to the reputation and growth potential of businesses, however, securing the support to do so can be difficult. NextEnergy has leveraged its network to promote the work of several emerging businesses including Energy Power Systems, Inventev, and Lumecon.

NextEnergy recently launched a new resource for the commercial buildings sector in response to market needs expressed by stakeholders – the Lighting Technology Energy Solutions (LiTES) program, which targets wasteful energy consumption. Advanced lighting technologies often develop at a rapid pace, leaving industry implementers struggling to keep up. The LiTES program partners will provide contractors with guidance about networked lighting control trends, updated trainings on installation methods, sales tools, benefits, and business models. Partner utilities will be piloting incentives to help lower the capital costs associated with lighting upgrade projects.

DOE is working to support the growth of small businesses focused on securing energy independence and resilience. Partnering with actors like NextEnergy allows for market needs to be met, while driving the economy and innovation in states like Michigan.