Energy Program for Innovation Clusters Success Story
Evergreen Climate Innovations (Evergreen) has been supporting climate innovation through catalytic capital for early-stage startups in the Midwest for over a decade. In 2021, they were awarded nearly $1 million through the Office of Technology Transitions’ (OTT) Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) program. Evergreen teamed up with Centrepolis Accelerator at Lawrence Technological University, mHUB, and Spark Innovation Center (see our conversation with SPARK earlier this year here, as well as our early interviews with Centrepolis, mHUB, and SPARK in 2021) to launch the Heartland Climate Tech Partnership. Through this funding, the Partnership launched 3 accelerators focused on the commercialization of climate tech and clean energy businesses across the Greater Midwest Region which has since supported over 48 hardtech startups. The Heartland Partnership has enabled each of these accelerators and their parent organizations to benefit from collaborations, deal flow, and extensive ecosystem support.
We connected with Ian Adams, the Managing Director of Evergreen Climate Innovations, and Allie Gross, the Program Manager for the Heartland Climate Tech Partnership, to discuss their vision for using the Heartland Climate Tech Partnership to continue developing the climate ecosystem in the Greater Midwest.
Q: Tell us more about Evergreen Climate Innovations and the origin of the Heartland Climate Tech Partnership.
IA: Evergreen was founded over a decade ago to support early-stage entrepreneurs in the Midwest region. We’re structured as a nonprofit, but we have an investment fund that is capitalized with philanthropic contributions. We support deep tech companies commercializing new technologies coming out of labs and universities and help them get to a place where traditional venture investors are ready to invest in them. We’ve made 43 investments so far, but the origin of Heartland came because we were looking to identify other ways to provide support for the ecosystem outside of our investment portfolio.
We had relationships with each of these three organizations, and when we saw this opportunity from OTT, we felt we were relatively well positioned to lead something like the Heartland Partnership given that we had led a similar grant in the past and could collaborate with these other programs who were trying to spin up these new accelerators.
OTT: How do you think about the value that the Heartland Climate Tech Partnership provides?
AG: The biggest undertaking so far has been the creation and management of the three new climate tech accelerators. The partnership has allowed us to strengthen our relationships with key partners across the greater Midwest region through identifying ways that we can support each other’s programs and more efficiently transfer knowledge across organizations. In addition, our Heartland website is a great resource directory for any entrepreneur who might not know where to start in terms of what’s available for them in the Midwest. Before this partnership existed, there wasn’t a one-stop shop to find accelerators, lab space, fellowships, and other resources available throughout the region. Additionally, we do monthly check-in calls with our partners to share lessons learned and many times we brainstorm ways that we can support affiliated companies via our connections and resources. There is so much crossover in our work.
IA: Yes, I’d underscore the OTT funding really helped these three accelerators get off the ground. Equally importantly though, it has allowed them to go to the market themselves and secure additional dollars. In terms of value, there is a ton of community building and cross-pollination that benefits startups. For instance, we have had companies supported by Centrepolis that Evergreen has then invested in (e.g. MAREL, Enspired Solutions) or startups that won one of our Innovator Awards that subsequently went through mHUB’s Accelerator program (e.g. Kazadi Enterprises, Aeternal Upcycling).
OTT: What have been some of the milestones achieved and lessons learned from launching Heartland?
AG: To date, 48 hardtech startups have been supported through the 3 Heartland accelerator programs. Of those, 32 of the companies have an underrepresented founder or are working on a solution that benefits underserved communities and so far, 9 of the companies have launched products or services during or after the program period.
One thing that has become very apparent is the importance of maintaining open communication channels and finding ways to cross-pollinate wherever possible. For example, in 2022, Evergreen received an additional $50,000 from OTT as an EPIC Prize Round 2 Semifinalist to build out a structured sales support program for diverse founders across our portfolio, addressing the lack of training and resources available to energy hardtech founders. We were able to hire a sales consultant to work with our portfolio companies and extended that offering to companies in the Heartland Climate Tech Partnership.
Recently, mHUB was awarded a Stage Two Prize of U.S. Small Business Administration 2023 Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, which will give Heartland supported startups access to dedicated supply chain specialists. Having this partnership in place has made it easy for us to better serve startups in need across our organizations.
Q: Looking forward, what does your team hope to accomplish?
AG: All of our accelerator programs are eager to have successful cohorts and demo days – the Spark Cleantech Accelerator Demo Day will be November 15th (registration is open here), while Centrepolis’ and mHUB’s will both take place early next year. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with one another to support climate tech innovation across the region.
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 Heartland Climate Tech Partnership, please visit Heartland Climate Tech Partnership (heartland-climate.org).