The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) invests millions of dollars every year into the national-lab complex. This investment allows the national laboratories to tackle the critical scientific challenges of our time—from renewable energy and quantum computing to creating a more resilient energy grid. The discoveries and innovations being developed by the labs have an even greater impact when we invest in bringing these ideas to the market where they can benefit the nation and world.
Energy I-Corps, a key initiative of DOE's Office of Technology Transitions (OTT), invites teams of researchers to participate in an intensive two-month training during which the researchers define technology value propositions, conduct customer discovery interviews, and explore viable market pathways for their technologies.
Researchers return to the lab with a framework for industry engagement to guide future research and inform a culture of market awareness within the labs. In this way, Energy I-Corps is ensuring our investment in the national labs is maintaining and strengthening long-term U.S. competitiveness.
Established in 2015 and formerly known as DOE’s Lab-Corps, Energy I-Corps became part of the OTT portfolio in 2018 and is managed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). See the graphic below to learn about the program’s impact to date.
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Who Can Participate?
Applicants apply to OTT's Energy I-Corps as a team composed of:
- A principal investigator (PI) with a commercially relevant technology from one of the national laboratories
- An entrepreneurial lead (EL)
- An industry mentor.
Over the course of the training and by interviewing at least 75 industry stakeholders, teams identify potential market pathways for their selected technologies, as well as identify opportunities where further development could lead to commercial value.
The time commitment is significant for both the PI and the EL throughout the program.
The Energy I-Corps curriculum was initially developed in 2015 in partnership with the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps). Adjustments made to the NSF I-Corps curriculum address the specific challenges scientists working within the national lab environment face getting their innovations ready for market, such as navigating the complexities of IP bundling. As more research teams complete the training, NREL and OTT continue improving and enhancing the Energy I-Corps curriculum to best meet participant and industry needs.
OTT's Energy I-Corps program is intended to:
- Increase the number of national-laboratory-developed technologies that are transferred into commercial development or industry agreements
- Train national laboratory researchers to better understand the commercialization process and private sector needs
- Transform national laboratory culture to value commercialization and entrepreneurial activities.
NREL leads curriculum development and execution and has supported teams assembled from the following national labs:
- Argonne National Laboratory
- Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
- Idaho National Laboratory
- Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
- Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
- Los Alamos National Laboratory
- National Energy Technology Laboratory
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory
- Oak Ridge National Laboratory
- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
- SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
- Sandia National Laboratory
In addition, Energy I-Corps welcomes participation from Ames Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Savannah River National Laboratory, and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.
For each class of Energy I-Corps teams, national labs recruit researchers working on energy technologies that have shown potential for commercial application.
Together, these researchers receive comprehensive training and each conduct at least 75 customer/stakeholder discovery interviews with industry. Once they have completed the training, participants have secured the necessary industry connections and insights to ready their energy technologies for the market, and gained an industry engagement framework to apply to future research and share with fellow researchers.
Other Energy I-Corps Opportunities
Energy I-Corps for Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR)
Energy I-Corps for SBIR is designed as an I-Corps "short course" intended to provide hands-on experience in customer development and business-model generation for DOE SBIR Phase I awardees. An optional program, Energy I-Corps for SBIR allows participants to gain a practical understanding of fundamental principles and processes that support the successful management and discovery of innovations across the technology life cycle.
Summer Entrepreneurship Program
The Summer Entrepreneurship Program provides paid opportunities for undergraduate students to explore and contribute to advances at the intersection of business and innovative technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, computing, data science, and biofuels. Students participate in and contribute to OTT mission-related research, as well as technical and policy activities under the guidance of technology transfer experts and OTT staff.
Energy I-Corps Satellite Program
In response to the evolution of the Energy I-Corps program within DOE and feedback from national lab partners and DOE program office supporters, OTT developed the Energy I-Corps Satellite Funding opportunity. Within this program, each lab is given the opportunity to take core elements of the Energy I-Corps curriculum and make the program accessible for additional researchers within their lab. For some labs this may be a "sprint" 3-day program, for others it may be the development of an I-Corps resource library and for others it may focus on team prep for the larger program. OTT provides each lab the latitude to develop a program to best serve their unique research community while seeding the idea of participation in the traditional Energy I-Corps program.
Program Leadership and Management
Energy I-Corp is administered by OTT. The program leadership team is composed of:
- Dr. Vanessa Chan, Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT
- Zack Baize, Program Manager (currently on detail)
- Katherine Harsanyi, Acting Program Manager.
Energy I-Corps is managed by NREL on behalf of OTT. The program management team is composed of:
- Shelly Curtiss, Program Manager
- Lauren Magin, Project Manager
- Danielle France, Team Liaison.
In addition, the program management team is supported by technology deployment professionals at each of the 17 national labs who are responsible for recruiting and preparing teams.