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Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center Newsletter: Winter 2020

Welcome to our first issue of the quarterly Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (IEC) newsletter.

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Learn how we are advancing cleantech startups and building the ecosystem that supports them. Engage with us to transform the energy landscape.


Three researchers work on an acoustic device.
Feasible Inc., an energy storage technology startup, is one of several cleantech companies working at NREL through an IEC incubation program.

In the Beginning: The Industry Growth Forum

Industry Growth Forum logo.

For more than 25 years, NREL has been convening innovators and investors, technology experts, and market leaders with the understanding that speeding promising clean technologies to market is key to making an energy transformation. NREL announced its cleantech market aspirations in 1995 by hosting the first NREL Industry Growth Forum (IGF). It was attended by the few pioneering cleantech investors at the time and energy entrepreneurs seeking capital. Since tracking began in 2003, IGF has provided pitch opportunities to more than 400 startups that have collectively raised more than $6.4 billion in funding post-IGF.

Registration is open for this year's Industry Growth Forum, April 29–30, in Denver.

The success of the IGF and the notoriety of its host lab earned attention from stakeholders who were eager to leverage NREL's convening power and learn more about the best and most innovative product ideas coming from cleantech startups and national labs.

The newly formed IEC and a group of technology-interested investors next created NREL's Investor Advisory Board. Formed in 2010, the board now has more than 45 members with representatives from venture capital, corporate investment, family offices, independent investors, and other investment and financial institutions. The board meets four times/year and members are highly engaged in IGF events.

Technology Incubation Fills a Gap to Market

The IEC recognized gaps in the path to market for many cleantech companies—especially hardware companies—and, along with motivated partners, envisioned a future in which hundreds of startups could receive technology assistance and collaborate with experts to propel them forward and into the waiting arms of investment.

Wells Fargo Recognizes the Potential of Partnership

Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator logo

The first to pay attention to the market potential brewing at NREL was the Wells Fargo Foundation. Committed to speeding the path to market for promising clean technologies, in 2014 Wells Fargo and NREL created a first-of-its kind technology incubation program, the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2). The $30 million program assists cleantech and agtech startups, chosen via a comprehensive selection process, by providing $250,000 worth of non-dilutive research assistance and validation at NREL or the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (St Louis). The 40 companies that have participated in IN2 have raised a collective $262 million in outside funding since joining the program. To date, the program has supported entrepreneurs with innovations in the built environment and agtech. This spring IN2 will announce its seventh cohort.

Big Energy Looks for Alternatives

GCxN logo

Noting the success of the INincubation model, the Shell GameChanger Program approached the IEC in 2018 to establish an accelerator program of its own. Now in its second year, the Shell Gamechanger AcceleratorTM Powered by NREL (GCxN) has hosted three cohorts and selected 11 cleantech start-ups in a variety of market-critical technologies: energy storage, grid integration, electric vehicle fast charging, and perovskite manufacturing. GCxN will announce its third cohort of companies this spring.

Interested in partnering with NREL to support or develop the next generation of
technology solutions through incubation programs? Contact

Out of the Lab and into the Market

Energy I-Corps logo

Along the way, the affinity of the IEC for facilitating connections and managing programs with a large number and variety of technology cohorts made it well-suited to manage the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Technology Transition's Energy I-Corps Program. Savvy minds inside the IEC proposed and helped build the entrepreneurial training program for national lab researchers. Energy I-Corps now has more than 100 alumni teams and seven spinout companies. Its goal is to accelerate the transfer of national lab-developed technologies and to inform more industry-minded lab research. The program pairs teams of national laboratory researchers with industry mentors for an intensive two-month training in which the teams learn to develop viable market pathways for their technologies.

Do you know of a national lab technology ready for market discovery? Contact

Another measure of IEC's success is the branching of its expertise due both to its reputation and access to NREL's resources. In 2019 the IEC launched the Tribal Energy Incubator to provide technical assistance for the vetting and development of utility-scale revenue-generation renewable projects on tribal land through a partnership with the Wells Fargo Foundation. For more information, email

In addition to our keystone programs, IEC staffers, recognized globally for our thought leadership, and our customers participate in events, speak at conferences, lead panels, and host industry events with partners and potential partners across the ecosystem. And, along the way, we work to keep our stakeholders informed.

Portfolio Updates

Read these articles for more on our partnerships.


CoverCress and partners using $10 million USDA grant to domesticate pennycress, produce sustainable fuel (IN2)

Learn more about the grant in this article from Illinois State University, "Finding use for Empty Winter Fields: John Sedbrook Part of Nature Food Paper."


Software Motor Company raises $25 million including first time investment by BMW i Ventures (IN2)

Read more in this article from PR News Wire: "Software Motor Company Raises New $25 Million Round."

Energy Storage

Chrysalix Venture Capital, in which Shell Ventures is a limited partner, invests in Feasible Inc. (GCxN)

Learn more about this investment on Chrysalix's website: "Chrysalix Robovalley Fund Makes Its First Investment in Feasible Inc., Developers of a Breakthrough Battery Intelligence Platform."

ESS Inc. raises $30 million in Series C investment round led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures (IN2)

Learn how the funding will be used in this article from, "ESS Inc. Raises $30 million from investor group to expand company and deploy next-generation flow battery energy storage systems."

Yotta Energy solar panel-level battery installed at California State University for real-world testing (IN2)

Learn more about this installment in this article from Solar Power World, "Yotta's Solar Panel-Level Battery Will be Installed at California University for Real-World Testing."

Grid Modernization

An Electrical Grid Monitoring demonstration project is underway with the New York Power Authority (GCxN)

Read more on this announcement on the New York Governor's website, "Governor Cuomo Announces Sweeping Series of Economic Development Partnerships Between New York and Israel."

Mapping and Visualization

Energy I-Corps team Gamma Rayality has spun out of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to create Gamma Reality Inc. (Energy I-Corps)

Check out their website:


Apana works with WaterStart on tech-savvy solutions to water use challenges (IN2)

Read more about these solutions in this article from Verizon, "You’re Probably Wasting An Insane Amount of Water."

Program Updates

The Shell GameChanger Accelerator Powered by NREL (GCxN) selected its third cohort of companies, startups working in energy storage and perovskite manufacturing, on Jan. 9.

The NREL Industry Growth Forum is April 29–30 in Denver. More than 90 investors/advisors will be participating in the one-on-one networking sessions, and the presenting companies will be announced in February. Register for the forum.

The Wells Fargo's Innovation Incubator (IN2) has expanded into affordable housing. The Wells Fargo Foundation feels strongly about the need for affordable housing, and NREL recognizes the link between affordable housing and energy efficiency.

The Tribal Energy Incubator launched a new partnership with the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians in California and is poised to kick off another project with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Idaho. Initial cohort participants at the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation are moving forward with their selected development partners on 100-MW solar projects in Arizona and New Mexico. For more information, email

The IEC is expanding its partnership with the Canadian Technology Accelerator to provide technical assistance to cleantech startup companies from across Canada. Canadian Technology Accelerator cohorts visited NREL in October 2019 and January 2020.

Recommended Reading from the Lab

Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis: New Approaches to Energy Hardware and Incubation

NREL: How NREL Is Fanning the Sparks of Innovation

Shell Gamechanger AcceleratorTM Powered by NREL (GCxN): Year in Review 2019

Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2): Annual Report 2019


Feb. 20 – Kansas City, Missouri
IN2 Program Manager Trish Cozart will be speaking at Ag Innovation 2020.

April 2–3 – Cambridge, Massachusetts
NREL Director Martin Keller will be presenting at the MIT Energy Conference.

April 6–9 – Denver, Colorado
IEC will attend the Smart Cities Connect Spring Conference.

April 29–30 – Denver, Colorado
IEC hosts the 25th anniversary of the NREL Industry Growth Forum.

May 4–6 – Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis, Missouri
IN2 agtech cohort companies will attend AgTech NEXT.

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