A conversation with EPIC prize winner U.S. Research Impact Alliance:

OTT: Congratulations on receiving $50,000 as part of OTT’s EPIC prize! First, please tell us a little more about your company/who you are.

USRIA: The U.S. Research Impact Alliance (USRIA) has been established primarily to streamline and integrate development, deployment and commercialization activities associated with technologies resulting from federally funded programs. It is envisioned that the USRIA is a catalyst for an innovative environment to expand funding of energy research and development, technology maturation and deployment, workforce development, and capability expansion. USRIA is charged with fundraising, generating visibility for research deliverables, creating public/private partnerships, supporting economic development, incubating start-ups, commercializing technologies and stimulating entrepreneurial activities. 

USRIA brings together the nation’s researchers and innovators from across the spectrum of national labs, industry and university partners to advance solutions in (1) Energy/Water/Air Nexus; (2) Distributed Generation; (3) IoT Solutions for Energy; (4) High Value Products from Carbon; and (5) Advanced Materials for Energy.

Recognizing the gaps and challenges in maturing and translating hard technologies to a commercial and impactful application, the USRIA is building the bridge (e.g., ecosystem) by facilitating collaborations to tackle existing and emerging commercial challenges and opportunities. USRIA fulfils this role by:

  • Developing industrial partnerships and conducting commercialization road-mapping.
  • Creating targeted private-public partnerships around regional and national challenges.
  • Marketing technologies currently in national labs, universities, and startups.
  • Scouting commercially viable technologies and support the creation, incubation and acceleration of start-ups.
  • Creating a network of potential investors and facilitating development of a value proposition. 
  • Providing training to researchers and serving as mentors to support program execution and provide services as needed.
  • Translating and communicating the commercialization impact to stakeholders.

OTT: Will you give us a brief description of your winning program plan?

USRIA: USRIA is a new nonprofit entity being stood up with the mission to solve the challenges of commercializing emerging energy technologies.  The entity is being launched through the joint efforts of KeyLogic Systems, Mountain State Capital, Phase Four Investors, and other stakeholders in the energy, research and startup ecosystem in the Appalachian region. 

At the time of submission to the EPIC Prize, the USRIA created the model for a best-in-class technology commercialization engine, with deep knowledge of the national lab system, the energy industry, venture capital and entrepreneurship. USRIA’s fundamental belief is that, by working together with the disparate regional resources and the unique challenges of energy startups, greater impact will be delivered by uniting resources that support entrepreneurs and the commercialization lifecycle.   

USRIA is creating regional innovation clusters, catalyzing investment and facilitating partnerships between large companies, startups and regional institutions including the DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL).  Through the development of an industry consortium and investor network, USRIA aims to develop programs such as a Venture Studio and/or IMPACT Accelerator to support entrepreneurship training and mentorship and garner funding for test and evaluation of early-stage technologies. 

OTT: How has this program impacted your region/local community?

USRIA: Over the past year, USRIA has engaged in targeted outreach highlighting the importance of NETL and its research to regional stakeholders.  USRIA has been the catalyst for numerous discussions about collaborative research and economic development initiatives between NETL and regional partners. These discussions have been with universities and regional entrepreneurial support organizations, as well as with local organizations in "energy transition" communities to secure additional resources.  USRIA anticipates enhancing community resilience or justice or prosperity by acting as a hub for innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration around efforts that advance the development of a regional cluster of companies and researchers in the fields of sustainable energy and environmental technologies. The specific focus will be directed towards technologies that intersect with, and can help transition beyond, and pivot the region’s fossil energy legacy into new opportunities.


OTT: When it comes to lessons learned with building out your regional innovation ecosystem, what is one thing that has worked and one thing that has not?

USRIA: Holistically, the USRIA regional ecosystem is an inclusive group and consists or an eclectic portfolio of sponsors.  Discussions with several resource providers and organizations have been positive towards the concept. USRIA has forged strong relationships to begin developing joint venture programs around common goals.

USRIA’s team is working to identify entrepreneurs that are willing to take the time and risk to invest in early stage, federally funded technologies, yet have not been able to generate a strong network following to date.

OTT: What does it mean to be an accelerator/incubator during the coronavirus pandemic? What is one lesson learned from this virtual experience?

USRIA: Through the pandemic, USRIA realized that our region has a broad swath of resources, with a strong sense of community.  However, the networks seem to be even more siloed in the virtual world.

As a startup organization during the pandemic, there has been challenges making new connections and building relationships without face-to-face interactions by focusing on common goals through virtual platforms.  We have also experienced the effects of unexpected delays relating to operations of the federal government and our inaccessibility to the researchers. 

OTT: How can we stay up to date on the latest news or events with your company?

USRIA: USRIA has a website which is active and can be accessed to view latest content, updates, information, and shortly new events being planned and held in the region.

Congratulations USRIA! Thank you for chatting with us.

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