OtherOregon BEST Awarding $1M in Grants to Cleantech Innovators

Check Out at Oregon BEST FEST on September 12

Oregon BEST, the Signature Research Center focused on growing the Cleantech sector in the state, expects to make about 10 Commercialization Grants this year to collaborative projects between the state universities and early stage Cleantech companies. Several have been announced and more are on the way. This program will be among the topics at Oregon BEST FEST on September 12, where Cleantech researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, major corporations, national experts and interested parties will gather to explore ways to accelerate the innovation process for new technologies related to renewable energy, sustainable buildings, energy efficiency, smart grid, recycling, and clean air and water.

Starting a company in today’s economy is tough going under the best of circumstances. Starting a company in Cleantech is even more challenging. Oregon BEST can improve the odds of success.

Many Cleantech innovations are focused on renewable energy and the utility grid. These products have a number of challenging “proof points” they must address.

Clean energy technologies have to demonstrate that they generate or save enough energy to make them a worthwhile investment. They have to prove that they can operate in real-world environments and have a long lifespan. Some of them are dependent on subsidies that can be hard to predict. Some of them depend on their ability to connect to the utility grid which requires a series of trials and pilot project to demonstrate the extremely high levels of performance, predictability, reliability and safety required by grid operators.

Some new energy innovations depend on agricultural or forestry feedstock to produce fuel. These systems have to deal with availability and cost of feedstock and the transportation issues related to getting it to the processing facility. Many alternative fuel processes result in the creation of both a biofuel and other derivative compounds such as biochar. This means that the company has to design and finance a complex business model with disparate customer bases.

Oregon is shaping up to be the U.S. leader in wave energy due to our natural wave resources, strong university programs and vibrant startup activity in that area. While there is tremendous promise in that area, wave energy devices have their own set of ‘proof points’ to tackle. Deploying mechanical and electronic systems into an environment characterized by corrosive salt water and unpredictable storms is a tall order for even the best engineers.

And if all of that wasn’t enough of a challenge, renewable energy innovations must compete with an entrenched fossil fuel industry with tried-and-true extractive processes and massive industrial scale. Despite this array of obstacles, the renewable energy industry is growing rapidly because it is clearly going to be a necessary element of our long term energy strategy to address resource depletion, national energy security and climate change.

Another group of Cleantech innovations targets the sustainable built environment. The idea of designing homes and buildings that use less energy, use less resources, use less water, and result in a healthier indoor environment has now moved into the mainstream in many communities. I predict that when the current construction recession is over that home buyers and building owners will see these attributes a “must haves” rather than exotic options. Even so, sustainable building materials and systems also have high barriers to commercialization. Architects and builders want to use proven products that don’t expose them to the dreaded “call back” and manufacturers don’t want to deal with the even more dreaded “product liability claim”.

So, despite the obstacles, what to do? These markets – energy and construction – are huge and growing on a global scale. Scientific advancements that can provide the basis for Cleantech products are accelerating in our universities and commercial labs. Successful companies in the Cleantech industry can offer high quality jobs to grow our economy. We need to improve our ability to harness the research and get the innovations out of the lab and into industry. That’s where Oregon BEST comes in.

Oregon BEST is a catalyst organization that offers a number of programs designed to support the acceleration of Cleantech products and companies. We provide support for university researchers to advance their research in the Cleantech area. We help entrepreneurs connect with the universities as well as investors and corporate partners. We provide competitive grants to the innovators who have the best prospects of establishing and growing Cleantech companies in Oregon. To learn more, join us at BEST FEST , check out this link or contact Ken Vaughn, Commercialization Program Manager at ken.vaughn@oregonbest.org.

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