Energy Program for Innovation Clusters Success Story

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The Clean Fight (TCF) is a nonprofit focused on running high impact programs for growth-stage companies to accelerate the adoption of promising climate tech solutions and speed a just clean energy transition in New York State.
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Introduction

The Clean Fight (TCF) is a nonprofit focused on running high impact programs for growth-stage companies to accelerate the adoption of promising climate tech solutions and speed a just clean energy transition in New York State. In 2021, they were awarded nearly $1 million through the Office of Technology Transitions’ (OTT) Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) program. In collaboration with the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium (NY-BEST) and Binghamton University, TCF used this funding to launch a new practice area focused on energy storage and to select and accelerate an inaugural cohort of ten startups poised to scale in New York. The program focuses on shortening sales cycles, building manufacturing capacity, and providing guidance navigating the NY market from utilities and industry experts.

We connected with Kate Frucher (KF), Managing Director of the Clean Fight, Nyla Mabro (NM), the Head of Strategy, and Molly Rafelson (MR), the Program Manager for Energy Storage cohort, to discuss their vision how TCF’s battery storage program can help increase New York’s position as a U.S. hub for energy storage innovation, development, and manufacturing.

OTT: Tell us about the origin story behind The Clean Fight.

KF: Most of the innovation ecosystem focuses on hatching new ideas and getting ideas initially commercialized. The insight we had is that most of the innovations we need already exist and the challenge is scaling their adoption – so that’s what we set out to do at The Clean Fight. Our focus is on identifying  climate tech companies around the world that address important needs and already have a strong base of happy customers, and then helping them scale up in the New York market.  New York is compelling both because of the size of its market (its GDP alone would place it as one of the largest economies in the world), but also because it’s iconic, so adoption here sends an important market signal.

OTT: Could you share more about why New York is such a ripe market?

KF: Just speaking in terms of energy storage alone, New York State has one of the world’s most ambitious goals, aiming for 6 Gigawatts of installed energy storage by 2030 to achieve 100% zero emissions electricity by 2040. We also have some of the world’s leading experts in energy storage and very strong community-based organizations advancing these efforts. For instance, there is a coalition called New Energy New York, led by Binghamton University, that is building a world class hub for energy storage innovation and manufacturing in upstate New York. In terms of expertise, we have folks like Professor Stanley Whittingham at Binghamton University who won the 2019 Nobel Prize for his work in lithium-ion batteries.

MR: Additionally, New York is really the financial capital of the world, and we think financing is becoming increasingly complex and important with the passing of the IRA. Having some of the world’s best minds focused on how to leverage federal funds to catalyze private financing and get them into projects that are making a material impact on reducing emissions is also a key differentiator of this market.

The Clean Fight’s Managing Director Kate Frucher connects with high-level speakers including Rohit Aggarwala, Chief Climate Officer of New York City and Commissioner of NYC Environmental Protection; Joseph Pfeiffer, First Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY); and David Sandbank, Vice President of Distributed Energy Resources.
The Clean Fight’s Managing Director Kate Frucher connects with high-level speakers including Rohit Aggarwala, Chief Climate Officer of New York City and Commissioner of NYC Environmental Protection; Joseph Pfeiffer, First Deputy Commissioner of the New Yo

OTT: What did the EPIC funding allow your team to do?

NM: Before the EPIC funding, we were focused on the buildings sector. Our vision, however, was always to expand into additional practice areas. Energy storage made the most sense as the next one given New York’s priorities and thinking through where we could have the biggest impact as an organization. The EPIC award allowed us to set up this new practice area in energy storage and test what elements of the existing program worked and what new things we need to build out specifically for storage.

MR: For instance, one key difference with this energy storage cohort is that we were very intentional in the selection process to bring in a mix of technologies and stages to prevent overt competition and allow for collaboration across the cohort. Some of the companies are now looking at co-selling opportunities together, which is great as this can enable the success of the sector more broadly across the state.

OTT: What type of support do you provide your startups?

MR: We focus on connecting the growth stage companies in our cohort with leading customers in the market. We aim to collapse the sales cycle through a six-month process of very high touch matchmaking – we help them fast-track through initial sales stages much more efficiently and quickly than any team would if they were doing this on their own. We hope for some kind of business agreement or at the very least very deep feedback to help teams understand where their gaps and opportunities are. Two other key connections we try to make are around investors and policymakers.  We bring in leading equity investors and other types of capital partners (e.g. project finance providers) so the companies can build relationships for future rounds and projects. And we also bring in policymakers and ecosystem influencers that can inform thinking on both sides and affect purchasing decisions in New York State.

Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, CEO of Cadenza Innovation connects with attendees at The Clean Fight’s Energy Storage Showcase.
Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, CEO of Cadenza Innovation connects with attendees at The Clean Fight’s Energy Storage Showcase.

OTT: What have you been able to accomplish?

MR: Between 2021-2023, TCF has supported 28 companies that have secured $580M in follow-on capital across both our energy and building decarbonization cohorts. Of those 28, 10 companies are focused specifically on the energy storage industry. 90% of our portfolio companies have established or grew their workforce in NY State. 90% of our most recent cohort companies are led by C-Suite executives that identify with a diverse or underrepresented group.

Members of The Clean Fight congregate with cohort companies at the Clean Fight’s Kick Off Summit.
Members of The Clean Fight congregate with cohort companies at the Clean Fight’s Kick Off Summit.

OTT: How is your team thinking about the future?

KF: The work enabled by OTT really lays the groundwork for an important multi-year effort here in energy storage. Because it’s still early days in the adoption of energy storage technologies and the growth of this industry that’s absolutely critical to achieving our broader decarbonization goals, there needs to be very focused, deliberate attention brought to building this ecosystem. We think we can play a hugely valuable role here – in addition to collapsing sales cycles, by identifying barriers along the way to scale that the need to be overcome, engaging policymakers in those conversations so they can see what’s happening on the ground, elevating community inclusion and equitable siting and workforce development needs, surfacing where energy storage projects are getting stuck and convening all the right stakeholders to figure out how to advance them. Together, we need to help create the guardrails and incentives to grow this nascent industry, and I think we’re now well positioned to help do that. 

 

The Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Prize recognizes the nation's most innovative incubators. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Technology Transitions (OTT), the EPIC Prize awards cash prizes to regional incubator teams that submit the most creative and impactful plans, then implement those plans to develop strong clusters, connections, and support for energy startups and entrepreneurs. To learn more, visit Energy Program for Innovation Clusters | Department of Energy.

To learn more about The Clean Fight, please visit HOME | The Clean Fight.