The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) invests millions of dollars every year in the U.S. national laboratories, yet without industry engagement and a business mindset at the labs, that investment has limited economic return.
Energy I-Corps, a key initiative of the Office of Technology Transitions, pairs teams of researchers with industry mentors for an intensive two-month training where the researchers define technology value propositions, conduct customer discovery interviews, and develop 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 U.S. competitiveness long-term.
Energy I-Corps, formerly known as DOE’s Lab-Corps, is managed by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL leads curriculum development and execution, recruits program instructors and industry mentors, and assembles teams from the following national labs:
For each class of Energy I-Corps teams, these 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 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.
The Energy I-Corps curriculum was initially developed in 2015 in partnership with the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Innovation Corps (I-Corps). With the support of the national labs and external industry advisors, NREL and DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) adapted NSF’s highly-regarded I-Corps training.
Adjustments made to the 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, etc. As more research teams complete the training, NREL and EERE continue improving and enhancing the Energy I-Corps curriculum to best meet participant and industry needs.
To learn more about current and past participants, visit our Energy I-Corps team page. You can also hear from graduates and faculty members in our video blog: National Lab Scientists Praise Entrepreneurial 'Boot Camp'.
Since the program’s inception in 2015, 111 teams from 11 national labs have worked with more than 110 industry mentors to discover the commercial impact of their technologies and conduct more than 7,550 “customer discovery” interviews with industry. Because of the training, technologies have reached a point of commercial viability that has attracted over $31 million in follow-on funding. Every EERE technology office has supported teams through the training. Participation has also expanded to include lab teams supported by DOE’s Fossil Energy, Nuclear Energy, and Environmental Management offices, with more in the works.
Read more about Energy I-Corps’ impact and recent successes:
- June 2019: Team COMBA selected for ARPA-E Award
- March 2019: Patent Protection Awarded to NREL’s EcoSnap-AC Technology
These successes would not be possible without the industry leaders serving as team mentors, training instructors, and curriculum advisors. Not only do these industry participants guide researchers through the training, but they get a first look at exciting new technologies developed at our national labs.
Want to learn more about Energy I-Corps? Check out the Energy I-Corps website for program details, information about alumni teams, and how to apply.
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Impact of Energy I-Corps—download the impact evaluation for Energy I-Corps' first class.
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