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Video describes the Energy I-Corps program and how it strengthens the clean energy economy. Text version

Video courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy

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 immersive 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.

Program Impact

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.

Energy I-Corps impact stats from the last 17 cohorts.

Want to learn about current and past participants?

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.

Customized Curriculum

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.
Energy I-Corps Process

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

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 introduced additional funding tracks beyond the historically-offered immersive training cohort.

A graphic showing the structure of the new Energy I-Corps 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 Pipeline Development (Energy I-Corps Topic 1) opportunity.

Within this program, national labs, plants and sites are provided up to $100,000 to implement projects and programming that have the potential to directly increase participation in subsequent Energy I-Corps training cohorts. 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.

Learn about selected projects from each lab call:

Teams that complete Energy I-Corps training cohorts are excited about their newfound skills and strategies to commercialize their technologies, but often lack actionable next steps. The Post Energy I-Corps (Energy I-Corps Topic 3) opportunity supports a small subset of the most promising training cohort graduates with a high likelihood of commercializing their technology.

Teams can receive up to $100,000 to cover costs of the next actionable step in technology commercialization and facilitate the teams in reaching their next source of more substantive support to continue their commercialization journey.

Learn about selected projects from each lab call:

The Technology Commercialization Internship 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 for Small Business Innovative Research (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.

The DOE Emerging Tech Studio is an effort for participants to learn how to launch a technology-focused venture by leveraging DOE’s extensive portfolio of intellectual property across the DOE national laboratory, plant, and site network. Throughout the program, teams of highly talented entrepreneurs are paired with technologies on the forefront of innovation with the objective of creating market-defining startups.

Program Leadership and Management

Energy I-Corp is administered by OTT. The program leadership team is composed of:

Energy I-Corps is managed by NREL on behalf of OTT. The program management team is composed of:

  • Katie Woslager, Program 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.