DiMasi Proposes $50 Million Program to Jumpstart Clean Energy Startups in Massachusetts; Renewable Energy Fund Would Be Slashed

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the state government’s existing clean energy programs, rather than from new spending, advocates say it’s a critical step for the state, which otherwise risks losing the momentum recently built up by clean energy companies. (In a report last fall, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative said clean energy had become the state’s 10th largest industry, with a rate of growth outstripping all other economic sectors.)

“It’s incredibly exciting,” Nick d’Arbeloff, co-executive director of NECEC (and an Xconomist), says of the DiMasi proposal, which the speaker is expected to submit in the form of a House bill in the coming weeks. “It represents a whole bunch of different key players coming together to make the right thing happen for the clean energy industry.”

The activities of the Clean Energy Center—which, it’s evident, were thought out very clearly by members of NECEC before the group handed the details to DiMasi—would focus in large part around a five-year, $25 million seed grant and mentorship program for early stage technology ventures.

“What we’re going to do is award funding to early stage cleantech projects in hopes of advancing them to the point where they can be commercialized in private companies,” says Jeffrey Andrews, a partner in the technology group at Waltham, MA-based Atlas Venture and co-chair of the NECEC committee developing the seed grant program. “But the real power comes not from the dollar amounts we are giving them—which, let’s face it, are relatively small—but from the power of the community we are wrapping around these programs. Technologists left to their own devices in a laboratory are much less likely to find the right commercial applications or build the right companies, but if you give them a project mentor and make them part of a community that has access to Fortune-1000 CEOs [and] that understands what’s happening in those markets, you’re much more likely to have a company created….We’ve found this to be very effective in other seed programs in the area, including the Deshpande Center.”

But the center would have a second big component —a $2.5 million fellowship program designed to give experienced entrepreneurs from sectors such as software and telecommunications the education they need to jump into clean energy ventures. “As many venture capitalists would tell you, one of the key weaknesses of many clean energy ventures is an inexperienced team,” says d’Arbeloff. “So for this sector to grow in Massachusetts, we must provide one critical ingredient, and that is experienced entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded a previous venture has gone through the process of thinking about how a product should be positioned, how it should be brought to market, who the young venture should partner with, how to raise capital, how to protect intellectual property, how to add to the team, how to navigate the market successfully and ultimately achieve revenue growth and success.” (Xconomist Bill Aulet has discussed in detail the issue of energy entrepreneurs here.)

The fellowship program, as d’Arbeloff and other NECEC members envision it, would be a three-month “boot camp” with three key elements: lectures and seminars on energy technology, marketplaces, and policy; a series of site visits to local clean energy companies and university and government labs (including a field trip to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO); and “capstone projects” undertaken in collaboration with local venture firms or clean energy startups in areas ranging from solar and biofuels to waste energy. “At the end of this fellowship program, all individuals participating will have a good basic understanding of key energy issues and topics, actual exposure to real-world clean energy research, and real experience through the execution of a project within the sector,” says d’Arbeloff. “Last and by no means least, they will have taken their Rolodex from zero to 60 as they gain exposure to a whole host of leading players in the region’s clean energy economy.”

The final piece of the center’s mission would relate to education. Under a $2-million-per-year Green Jobs … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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2 responses to “DiMasi Proposes $50 Million Program to Jumpstart Clean Energy Startups in Massachusetts; Renewable Energy Fund Would Be Slashed”

  1. “$50 million spending program designed to boost the state’s clean energy sector, …” more then ever we need this. It only sounds not much $ 50 million for clean energy :-(