Detroit-based NextEnergy, in partnership with Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust, will use a $745,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to support clean energy companies with commercializing their technologies in the Midwest.
Expected to launch in July, the Midwest Innovation Bridge — or the Bridge, for short — will offer early-stage technology companies entrepreneurial training, technology partnerships, and access to demonstration platforms to support clean energy technology in the transportation, grid, and built environment sectors.
“I think what makes Illinois and Michigan unique is that we have very established businesses and multinational firms — think the Big Three and Dow Chemical,” says Dan Radomski, NextEnergy’s vice president of industry and venture development. “We’re partnering both small and large companies in our state and, sometimes, we might be partnering an early stage company in Michigan with an established business in Illinois, and vice versa. We’re broadening our communities to make the most meaningful connections that are going to accelerate technology development in energy and transportation for the coming years.”
Radomski says the three-year grant will allow hundreds of startups and technology developers to take part in the I-Corps Energy and Transportation, which teaches participants how to commercialize their technology. NextEnergy and Clean Energy Trust will also host technology challenges that connect startups and developers with established firms.
“(An automaker) may say they are interested in innovation in anything that will allow their vehicle to be more connected and transactional with the built environment, whether that’s with buildings, the grid, or homes,” Radomski says. “So we would go out to our community of innovators and crowd source solutions in those areas. And then we’d take those companies or universities directly to the (automaker) for their purview to decide who they’re interested in funding to go to the next level of prototyping, demonstration, or integration.”
While the I-Corps program will be held once a year, the technology challenges will occur throughout the year based on industry need and how quickly the program can crowd source solutions, Radomski says.