Developing transformative energy technologies and cleaner manufacturing processes and new materials requires more than a great idea and some committed people. It takes an innovation ecosystem.
To meet this challenge, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and Argonne National Laboratory announced a new innovation accelerator program for science and energy entrepreneurs called Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI).
The commercialization of complex science and energy technologies requires hefty capital investment, access to world-leading scientific tools and facilities, and lengthy development timescales beyond the typical software startup and venture capital models. To help entrepreneurs bridge this commercialization valley of death, CRI will support cutting-edge innovators to work on early-stage technologies that can deliver game-changing impact to the energy industry.
Selected innovators will benefit from up to a two-year engagement, including a fellowship, seed funding for technical collaboration with the laboratory, access to space at Argonne, guidance in using the R&D tools and expertise housed there, and connections to the Midwest’s rich network of business mentors and investors.
CRI is one of EERE’s Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs (LEEP), sponsored by EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO). LEEP, which is modeled on a successful pilot project between AMO and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) called Cyclotron Road, provides innovators the mentorship and technical support needed to advance challenging science and clean energy technologies to the proof-of-concept stage where they can launch into the marketplace. Embedding innovators in the National Lab environment, with unparalleled R&D infrastructure and world-class technical expertise, allows innovators to build technologies that are otherwise too early or uncertain for venture capital to support.
“Clean energy is this generation’s defining opportunity,” said Dr. David Danielson, assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “It has the potential to improve the lives of billions of people worldwide and forever change the way we live.
“But our most promising innovators face significant challenges in getting the resources and support they need to create cutting-edge clean energy startups, especially when it comes to developing physical science based technologies. They increasingly are choosing to create software startups or direct their talents elsewhere. If we don’t rally behind them as a nation, I fear we risk a ‘lost generation’ of early-stage clean energy technology entrepreneurs. With this initiative, we are giving our best and brightest the support needed to tackle our nation’s greatest energy challenges and change the world.”
Launching CRI at Argonne enables startups to leverage the unique collection of manufacturing hubs, Fortune 500 companies, research universities, and innovation incubators and accelerators found in Chicago and the surrounding states.
“This launch of Chain Reaction Innovations should rally local innovators to pull together their boldest vision and greatest dreams,” said AMO Director Mark Johnson. [A similar program called] Cyclotron Road has had tremendous success at Berkeley National Laboratory in growing energy-focused startups and leveraging national laboratory expertise. We expect to transplant that same success to the Midwest because Argonne is a tremendous resource to be unlocked for would-be entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams in accelerating the creation of transformative products focused on energy, manufacturing, and sustainability.”
“Argonne and Chicago sit at the heart of one of our nation’s greatest concentrations of research institutions, an industrial base that is driving clean tech and advanced manufacturing, and a population that embraces innovation,” said Argonne Laboratory Director Peter Littlewood. “This is a fertile ecosystem in which to grow the nation’s next game-changing energy or material-based technology.”
Chain Reactions Innovations will provide innovators access to Argonne’s deep network of 1,400 multi-disciplinary researchers and engineers as well as unique tools, including the Mira supercomputer and the nation’s highest-energy X-ray source, the Advanced Photon Source. Through a partnership with mentor organizations, CRI participants will also receive assistance with developing business strategies, conducting market research, and finding long-term financing and commercial partners.