Solar Prize Round 3 Winner Journey (Text Version)

Below is the text version for the Solar Prize Round 2 Journey video.

On Dec. 4, 2020, Maxout Renewables and Wattch Inc. were named winners of the American-Made Solar Prize Round 3. Take a look at their journey through the competition to see where they started and how they grew.

Narrator: In February 2020, 20 innovators across the U.S. started their journey through a competition aimed at energizing the American solar industry…

The Solar Prize Round 3.

Debbie Brodt-Giles, Solar Prize administrator, National Renewable Energy Laboratory: The Solar Prize is a three-stage prize competition, really expanding and accelerating solar innovations and building solar businesses and bringing manufacturing back to the United States.

Narrator: Just nine months later, two solar startups were selected as winners.

Daniel Simmons, assistant secretary, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy: Team Maxout Renewables from Livermore, California. This team developed an appliance powered by a fly-wheel called the Evergrid, that can turn residential solar installations into a microgrid to keep flowing during a grid outage as long as the sun is shining.

The second winner is Team Wattch from Atlanta, Georgia. This team created a solar monitoring platform that can help increase operational efficiency for commercial and industrial PV plants.

Narrator: The two teams were selected for substantially advancing their solutions, taking them from proofs-of-concept to refined prototypes and finding partners to perform pilot testing. But how did they get where they are now?

Both Maxout and Wattch submitted their innovations to the Solar Prize Round 3 in December 2019. In February 2020, they were selected as semifinalists, earning $50,000 each. Next up: transforming their ideas into proofs-of-concept.

Alex Nussey, co-founder, Wattch Inc.: The funding for us at this stage in our lives and at the stage our company was back in February when we won the first check, I mean that was a complete godsend for us. We could afford to buy the right test equipment that we needed for the hardware and pay to have prototypes made and things like that.

Narrator: With COVID-19 shutting down labs and facilities across the country, these teams had to get creative with their resources. Things didn't always go as planned.

Eric Cummings, founder, president/CEO, Maxout Renewables: I 3-D printed a coupling mechanism for this, and when I started to spin it up, it flew apart. It exploded at about 3,000 RPMs. I thought, okay, that's it, we can't do this. But you dust yourself off and you realize, okay, that was stupid. Let's do some stress analysis and get real about this.

Narrator: In July, the 20 semifinalist teams pitched their ideas to industry experts in a virtual setting. In the end, 10 teams were announced as finalists, each winning $100,000 in cash prizes and $75,000 in technical support vouchers.

As these teams entered the third and final phase of competition, they continued making progress in the midst of shutdowns.

Sarah Gomach, Solar Prize administrator, National Renewable Energy Laboratory: I think despite having to do most of this work virtually, our Round 3 teams and the progress that they made and the partnerships they formed were probably the strongest that we've seen collectively over the three rounds of the Solar Prize.

Narrator: The additional funding and support vouchers allowed these innovators to connect with national labs and testing facilities they might not normally have access to.

Jared Duncan, co-founder, Wattch Inc.: Not only the basic funding but the vouchers helped us a lot as well. Like we've been able to do reliability testing with Sandia. And that's going to give us a lot of confidence to send these out to our customers and make sure that it's reliable for a long period of time. We never would have gone that far without having those vouchers to be able to use.

Narrator: In December, the Round 3 finalists again competed virtually, in the hopes of being one of two teams to take home half a million dollars.

Eric: We really felt like if we didn't win this, it wasn't because we didn't try. It was because something else was so great that it beat the concept, it beat the work that we did.

Narrator: Finally, the two winners of Round 3 were announced — Maxout Renewables and Wattch Inc.

Alex: We worked really hard through this whole competition and it was an honor to win. We're thrilled. It's still sinking in, to be honest.

Narrator: Both teams received $500,000 in cash prizes and $75,000 in support vouchers, which they plan to use to hire teammates and get their innovations to market.

Eric: Now we have the ability to kind of finish the projects, make the purchases, do the things that we knew that we need to do kind of contingent on winning or contingent on investment. And now we can do all of them, which is just fantastic.

Alex: It just really gives me the confidence that we will be able to give this absolutely everything we have and that funding and credibility, none of that will be the reason that we don't hit all of our goals if we don't want to. It removes a lot of the unknowns.

Narrator: With the help of the Solar Prize, these innovators have pushed their technologies closer to market.

Kirsten Pace, chief operating officer, Maxout Renewables: A year ago, we had our idea but we had no product, no patents, and now we have three patents filed and a prototype that is a real product.

Ryan Babaie, co-founder, Wattch Inc.: Without this prize, we definitely, I mean, either would have been a couple years or so before we'd gotten to that point or maybe we would have had to go down a different route, hire someone with that expertise which is…

Alex: Hard.

Ryan: Hard. But being able to do that early on in the company has really helped drive a lot of decisions. And I think that's been super invaluable and just a super unique part of the prize."

Alex: "Fun, too."

Ryan: "Yeah, super fun."

Debbie: Congratulations, Maxout Renewables and Wattch.

Sarah: We're excited to have you as part of the Solar Prize family.

Text on screen: Congratulations, Maxout Renewables and Wattch!