NextEnergy Aims to Move Ideas from the Lab to Market

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NextEnergy, a Detroit-based business accelerator for advanced energy technologies, is teaming up with the Michigan I-Corps to provide researchers and engineers in the energy and transportation industries with the training needed to commercialize technology and build a business model.

While based on the National Science Foundation-funded training program I-Corps, the program — which kicks off in May and takes 80 hours to complete — has been developed with a specific audience in mind.

“There’s going to be content that’s developed for the various needs energy and transportation technologies have, which are different than (the needs) software technology might have,” says Todd Nelson, manager of venture support at NextEnergy, who is helping oversee the I-Corps program. “So there’s going to be different content, and we’re also bringing in industry members from Tier 1 automotive suppliers as well as investors from the region and around the country.”

Nelson calls the partnership between NextEnergy and the Michigan I-Corps, a program of the University of Michigan College of Engineering Center for Entrepreneurship, “serendipitous.” While the U-M program aimed to diversify their curriculum for specific markets, NextEnergy wanted to work on an I-Corp-like curriculum with its university network, he says.

“We realized that (the university researchers) were the ones applying for federal funding the most,” Nelson says. “We want to increase the likelihood that our companies and universities will be able to receive federal funding.”

Early applicants in the program include a team from Wayne State University with advanced high strength steel and another from Illinois Institute of Technology/Argonne National Labs, which claims a rechargeable battery that can extend an electric vehicle’s range up to 500 miles. The program will cap off at 20 teams, with each team including at least three members.

“The best founder teams are composed of a technically oriented person who’s developing the technology and a business-oriented person who’s developing the business,” Nelson says. “The third person is really a wild card. We’re usually looking for someone who has experience in the industry that the company is trying to develop into, or somebody that has experience commercializing technologies and understands the (process).”

Teams will attend one of the two training tracks — energy or transportation — led by three core teachers: Dave Grossman, the founder and principal of Rochester Hills-based Dynamic Strategy Group; Aaron Crum, the co-founder of Adaptive Materials Inc., a start-up that sold for $21 million in 2010; and Jonathan Fay, the director of the Michigan I-Corps Program.

Industry leaders, investors, entrepreneurs, and government and economic development professionals will also lead some of the workshops and market-specific trainings. Braemar Energy Ventures, Ford Motor Co., and Navitas Systems are among the organizations that have a representative who will participate in the program.

The application deadline is April 18. For more information, click here.

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