NREL Leading DOE's Lab-Corps Pilot, Bringing Entrepreneurial Concepts to Lab Researchers
October 1, 2015
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is leading program efforts in support of the $2.3 million Lab-Corps pilot program, helping 14 entrepreneurial teams from eight U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national labs identify private sector opportunities for commercializing promising sustainable transportation, renewable power, and energy efficiency technologies.
By participating in Lab-Corps, each team will receive comprehensive training and access to a suite of commercialization resources—including direct market feedback on each technology as well as advice for pursuing the development of start-up companies, industry partnerships, licensing agreements, and other business opportunities. All in addition to the broad entrepreneurial support and education opportunities the selected national labs provide to all lab scientists to promote the commercialization of innovative, lab-developed technologies.
The specialized training curriculum used in Lab-Corps is a new model of engagement that is part of DOE's Lab Impact Initiative. In addition to Lab-Corps, the Lab Impact Initiative utilizes the Small Business Voucher Pilot and Technologist-in-Residence Pilot programs to increase and enhance laboratory-private sector relationships, streamline access to national laboratory capabilities, and demonstrate the value of laboratory-developed science and technology.
The Lab-Corps pilot may be extended to other national laboratories and other DOE programs to accelerate the commercialization of valuable discoveries across many sectors and maximize taxpayer return on investment in federally funded research.
Entrepreneurial Boot Camp Starts in Mid-October
NREL will kick-off the first Lab-Corps "cohort" in mid-October, convening the national lab teams to begin a six-week entrepreneurial boot camp that will connect them with industry experts and leaders and help them learn entrepreneurial concepts to drive their innovations to the market. In-person sessions and weekly webinars will help each team learn how to evaluate the market potential of their technologies and bring a new level of entrepreneurial education back to their research and colleagues. Topics covered will include defining value propositions in the energy industry, communicating with customers, intellectual property basics, cost structures, development and deployment challenges, strategic alliances and partnerships, and much more.
At the core of the curriculum is the customer discovery process that will take the teams out of the building—and perhaps out of their comfort zone—and challenge them to conduct 10 to 15 interviews per week. "Lab-Corps provides the perfect opportunity for researchers to learn how to stop talking about their technologies and start asking the right questions to figure out how those technologies will succeed in the market and what they need to do to make that happen," said Jennifer Ramsey, NREL's Lab-Corps program coordinator. "Lab-Corps' customized curriculum will make national lab researchers think in a different way and really learn what being an entrepreneur is all about."
Throughout the pilot phase of Lab-Corps, the national lab teams will test innovative models and gather metrics to identify best practices that support potential full-scale implementation of the program across the entire DOE national laboratory space.
Two NREL Teams Participating To Accelerate Innovations
Like many of the participating national labs, NREL will have two teams of researchers involved in the Lab-Corps pilot looking to accelerate the transfer of their clean energy innovations to the market.
The WISDEM team hopes to take their research tool that creates a virtual, vertically integrated wind plan to another level with Lab-Corps, enabling stakeholder collaboration for optimizing wind turbine and plant design, control, and operation. With the help of their industry mentor, the team hopes to develop a business model for a full graphical interface with database support, turning WISDEM into a commercially viable tool that will help industry design and develop the next generation of wind energy systems.
Likewise, the Eco-AC team hopes to take their modular air conditioning solution—intended to replace current window air conditioners using multiple patent-pending components developed at NREL that reduce air leakage and improve operating efficiency and comfort—and find ways to capitalize on the poor aesthetics of window air conditioners, lack of differentiation between current products, and lack of brand-awareness/loyalty while targeting homeowners, property managers, and rental tenants.