Economic Development

TBEIC Receives Clean-Tech Program Award

WARREN, Ohio – Thanks to its inclusion in the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator, the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center has new network of clean-technology companies and researchers regionally and across the country to tap into.

“When we were picking through what we could do to bring more clean-tech companies to the forefront, a lot of that had to do with outreach and understanding energy storage and building energy clusters,” says Rick Stockburger, vice president and chief operating officer of TBEIC. “It goes beyond these arbitrary borders that are state lines for our regular funding, to find the best practices in Appalachia, find companies doing great work and develop that cluster mentality.”

Last week, the national clean-technology incubator program, funded by operated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Wells Fargo Foundation, announced the Warren incubator as the recipient of the Innovation Incubator Channel Partner Award. TBEIC has been a channel partner since July 2018.

“We have more than 50 partners from a variety of perspectives – there’s universities, incubators, accelerators – so our view is that there’s a lot of important innovation happening in this space,” says Ramsey Huntley, program officer for clean technology and innovation philanthropy at Wells Fargo.

“While a lot of that is happening exactly where you might expect, in Silicon Valley or the New York-Boston corridor, a lot of it is happening elsewhere,” he continues. “Rick is well positioned to identify promising companies and technologies coming out of a part of the country that, frankly, a lot of investors don’t think to look.”

The Channel Partner Award funds efforts to develop sustainable energy technologies that lead to partnerships, job creation, the sharing of best practices and capital. The award is funded by a $5 million commitment from the Wells Fargo Foundation to be distributed over four years.

Since its founding, the Innovation Incubator’s Channel Awards Program has distributed nearly $2.1 million to its partners. Funded programs have created nearly 200 jobs and $18.3 million in funding for associated startups.

“When we offer these funds to incubators across the nation, they can learn from each other. We gather them together, they can assure their learnings and it helps build the ecosystem better and faster,” says Trish Cozart, the national laboratory’s program manager for the Innovation Incubator program. “They have opportunities to send their companies to other incubators that are doing things that could help them within their own systems, including access to National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s capabilities.”

Part of the funding, Stockburger says, will be used to host a conference Sept. 14 and 15. The conference will focus on three area: startups, manufacturing and investing.

“We’ve got some pretty cool partners to be part of this – groups like the Great Lakes Energy Institute, the Consumer Energy Alliance, the National Association of Manufacturers – to bring together what the future of this energy economy is going to be,” he says. “One of the things that’s most important to our companies is access to customers, so there’s going to be a lot around how to work with manufacturers. … The manufacturing track is going to be how to adopt these technologies, specifically, storage and microgrids or powering your plant and doing it efficiently.”

And for the Innovation Incubator, launched in 2014, the addition of the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center is part of an effort to showcase developments in clean technology and energy taking place outside the areas best known for innovation, like Silicon Valley or the New York-Boston corridor.

“We can use the lever that we have of a national laboratory and a large bank in Wells Fargo to find these technologies and match them up against investments as well,” Huntley says. “That’s why looking in areas you wouldn’t expect to find them is so important. We’re really working to find technologies coming out of the places that aren’t Silicon Valley.”

Adds Cozart: “From the perspective of supporting sustainability, if we’re limited to the usual suspects, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.  … This new paradigm in energy – where the grid runs in two directions by providing energy that’s made locally or collected from homes – won’t just happen in Silicon Valley. It has to, and needs to, happen everywhere to create a better world.”

Since its founding, the Innovation Incubator’s Channel Awards Program has distributed nearly $2.1 million to its partners. Funded programs have created nearly 200 jobs and $18.3 million in funding for associated startups.

Pictured: Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center vice president Rick Stockburger says the support from the Innovation Incubator program will support developing relationships with organizations throughout Appalachia.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.