NREL: NREL Launches New Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program, West Gate
Every day, game-changing technologies are introduced that could more easily transition the world to a clean energy future. However, few entrepreneurs have the resources to develop promising new technologies into successful cleantech startups.
To accelerate technology development, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) created the Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program (LEEP). Funded by EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, LEEP provides an institutional home for innovative researchers to build their research into products and train to be entrepreneurs.
The newest Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program, West Gate, is hosted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) with support from the Colorado School of Mines. West Gate adds to the NREL Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (IEC) program continuum by providing a bridge between market discovery and startup creation. Unlike other programs, West Gate provides unrivaled access to the laboratory through high-touch engagement with the laboratory and entrepreneurial community.
Developing the Next Generation of Cleantech Startups
West Gate logo
The difficulties behind bringing advanced manufacturing and energy technologies to market include the strong capital investment needs, access to scientific tools and facilities, and lengthy development timescales. West Gate encourages entrepreneurial potential by providing innovators with the time, training, and technical capabilities to accelerate a good idea into an early-stage company ready for growth.
West Gate’s pathway to commercialization for cleantech startups includes a two-year runway where innovators are supported with entrepreneurial mentorship and technology de-risking while introducing them to ecosystem partners needed to facilitate commercial and investment opportunities. Top entrepreneurial scientists and engineers are selected through a competitive process that requires them to be strongly aligned with the core capabilities and mission of NREL.
Through a competitive selection process, West Gate provides up to five selected innovators with:
An annual stipend of $100,000
Healthcare and relocation benefits for qualifying candidates
Curated, individualized programming
Entrepreneurial curriculum, mentorship, and support
Two-year technical assistance funding of $175,000 redeemable at NREL, Colorado School of Mines, and other program affiliates.
“The heart of West Gate is putting the innovator first and ensuring we provide them the training, the resources, and the people to make them successful,” said Rachelle Ihly, West Gate program manager at IEC. “There’s plenty of people who want to be entrepreneurs but don’t have the right tools in front of them. West Gate really provides them that opportunity through a paid salary and additional funding dedicated to the lab to develop their technology. With entrepreneurial training and resources, it’s really meant to put them on a path to success.”
The path to success for these entrepreneurs is streamlined by the West Gate program. Through competition selection, the aim is for diverse entrepreneurs within the program to bring new value to the clean energy market.
“We’re looking for ways to broaden the talent pool,” Ihly said. “Traditionally, other programs at the other national labs have largely selected Ph.D. scientists, but we’re looking to provide more flexibility to who we accept. Maybe it’s someone who has a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field and also has had experience in the industry. We want to be more flexible and approach the talent pool from a diverse and inclusive perspective. We realize that there are underserved populations and underserved communities that deserve the chance to transform the entrepreneurial cleantech ecosystem.”
By pairing together excellent research and technical capabilities, West Gate can help create companies that go on to raise additional funding for growth, hire new employees, and help to bolster our economy. Such companies with cutting-edge, transformative technologies can then go on to partner with large industry stakeholders, work with the laboratory after the program, and even become the next major players in the industry at large. By collocating with NREL, the companies commit to the laboratory and the Denver metro area as their beginning ground for their vision.