As a cleantech innovator or business owner, you’re balancing a lot. You’re an expert in your technology and the needs of your community, but you may not be aware of all the federal programs that exist to support the clean energy economy.
To figure out where you can best plug in, CEBN is providing overviews of programs across the federal government. CEBN and Third Way recently held a showcase of federal clean energy innovation programs within the Department of Energy. Access the recording here. Subsequent blog posts in this series will explore programs in greater detail, with an emphasis on identifying what stage of innovation and entrepreneurship it supports, and when to be on the lookout for funding opportunities.
For now, allow us to introduce you to six different programs at the Department of Energy (DOE).
“Trying to find the next thing”
ARPA-E funds cooperative agreements to support research and development. Specifically, it focuses on the “most high-risk, high-reward, disruptive research,” according to Deputy Director Dr. Jennifer Gerbi.
Small businesses doing exploratory research should look into the SBIR SEED program (Supporting Entrepreneurial Energy Discoveries). ARPA-E also runs an OPEN funding opportunity every three years to investigate energy technology concepts outside the scope of previous ARPA-E program funding, (the next OPEN opportunity is expected in 2024). You can join the mailing list for funding opportunity announcements.
Finally, the agency is always hiring for technical or business expertise.
“Taking technologies from the lab to the real world”
OTT focuses on the entire commercialization continuum for RDD&D (research, development, demonstration, and deployment). Given all the different routes for technology to get to the marketplace, OTT supports innovators with licenses, forming new companies, acquisitions, and more.
If you are looking for services comparable to an incubator or accelerator, look to Energy I-Corps. This is a two-month program teaching about getting your product to market.
Also through OTT, Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) funds regionally-based incubators. This new program is entering its second year in 2022.
“Resources through deployment and demonstration”
There are over a dozen specific program offices in EERE, across energy efficiency, renewable power, sustainable transportation, and operations. These offices sponsor SBIR topics, hold prize competitions, and release funding opportunities relevant to each office’s technology focus. If you are looking to develop, test, and de-risk an idea, EERE grants are a way to get funding. EERE offices also partner with the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to support incubators and accelerators.
Join the mailing list to get updates.
“Bridging to bankability”
The Loans Programs Office supports companies on the end of the innovation spectrum. Companies ready to open their first commercial project, or to accelerate demonstration projects, can look to LPO for financing. As Rob Edwards, a Director at LPO, explains, the program “focuses on building the bridge to bankability for companies that are ready to build a large manufacturing plant and supply their product to market.”
Rather than releasing funding opportunities as FOAs, LPO’s application portal is open year-round for companies to apply. To learn more, you can join the mailing list.
“America’s seed fund”
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs were created to connect small businesses with R&D funding opportunities. The Department of Energy has the third largest SBIR program.
Twice a year, DOE releases specific topics for funding. The first round of grants (phase 1) allocates $200-250 thousand for innovators to develop their ideas. Entrepreneurs that prove feasibility in phase 1 can apply for phase 2 funding available on the order of $1.1-1.7 million to support the pivot to commercialization. STTR is a funding opportunity for small businesses partnered with research institutions and operates similarly to SBIR.
From support on applications to commercialization, this program offers support for SBIR/STTR applicants and recipients along the way. Awardees also receive free access to I-Corps (see OTT above).
“How to tap into what the national labs have to offer”
The Department of Energy has 17 National Labs across the country.
The national labs support entrepreneurship with Lab Embedded Entrepreneur Programs (LEEP). This is a workforce development program that emphasizes the importance of having scientists involved in marketing and deploying their technologies. As such, they train energy entrepreneurs and pay those in their fellowship full-time to work in the national lab, de-risk technologies and make them deployable.
In addition, OTT’s Lab Partnering Service, as its name states, is a great way to connect with national labs. On this site, you can find patents, search for DOE experts, innovations, and laboratories.
To discover more federal programs, take a look at the other entries in our Insight into Federal Programs series, which we add to throughout the year. Additionally, Clean Energy Business Network is always tracking funding opportunities through our free cleantech funding database, which highlights sources of funding for clean energy companies across technologies and services.