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Rocky Mountain Innosphere Expands Cleantech Activities

Rocky Mountain Innosphere, an incubator focused on high impact scientific and technology startup companies, recently announced the launch of the cleantech focused “Innosphere at CREED”. CREED is the Colorado Center for Renewable Energy Economic Development, co-located with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. Until now, Innosphere’s sole physical location has been in Fort Collins, Colorado, so the new location represents a significant geographic expansion.Innosphere_Circle
Innosphere’s move into CREED comes a few months after CleanLaunch, an incubator focused exclusively on cleantech, moved out. Four CleanLaunch companies transitioned into Innosphere during this time, including Fabriq, US e-Chromic, Solid Power, and EcoVapor Recovery Systems. Rob Writz, former Director of New Ventures at CleanLaunch, is now Innosphere’s Director of Clean Technology Programs. Clearly, Innosphere at CREED has enabled some continuity in the support available to former CleanLaunch companies, and it has preserved the presence of a cleantech focused incubator at CREED, which are both good things for Colorado’s cleantech industry.

Historically Innosphere’s industry focus has been much broader than CleanLaunch’s was, but according to Innosphere CEO Mike Freeman, Innosphere has always been committed to the cleantech space. This is reflected by the fact that Innosphere has nine current cleantech clients in addition to the four that recently came over from CleanLaunch. Innosphere at CREED reinforces this commitment to cleantech, and strengthens it through a closer relationship with NREL and NREL’s ecosystem of cleantech focused investors and partners.
Cleantech is an incredibly broad industry, so Innosphere has chosen four specific segments to focus on, including transportation technologies, building efficiency, electrical systems integration, and sustainable materials. Even these segments are extremely broad, but they are still narrower than the cleantech industry as a whole, which allows Innosphere to provide deeper support than they could if they tried to cover every clean technology.

Overall I believe Innosphere’s move into CREED represents a positive development for cleantech in Colorado, in part because it brings a new organization and some fresh eyes to explore ways to help local entrepreneurs take advantage of all that NREL has to offer. Sometimes it helps to shake things up a bit when tackling something as challenging as commercializing new clean technologies, and combining the substantial organizations of NREL and Innosphere might open up new opportunities and new paths to funding for startups that weren’t available, or weren’t easy to find, before.
As a next step, I’d love to see Innosphere open up a space for cleantech entrepreneurs in Boulder. Given the interest in co-working spaces there, which I’ve experienced first-hand at Colab Boulder, I don’t think they’d have a hard time filling it with paying tenants. Impact HUB Boulder, a co-working space for those trying to create a positive impact, comes closest to meeting this need today, but I think there would still be demand for a space dedicated to cleantech. I’m sure Innosphere has its hands full integrating its new CREED site, so I don’t expect to see any new sites opening soon, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Jay Holman is Principal of Venture to Market LLC, a Boulder based consultancy providing go to market services for new ventures in the cleantech industry.

Colorado Angels Have Unfair Advantage Investing in Cleantech

Colorado has a lot to offer cleantech entrepreneurs, from targeted grants, to easy access to NREL’s technology commercialization resources, to cleantech focused entrepreneurial programs at top research universities, to name just a few. There is no more supportive place in the country to launch a cleantech company, which gives local angels a distinct advantage when investing in this growing, and complex, industry. Colorado knows about investing in cleantech.

The only way the community could do more to support cleantech would be to scour the country for experienced, successful entrepreneurs, bring them to Colorado and immerse them in the local cleantech ecosystem, then provide guidance from industry experts as they develop business ideas around one of the numerous innovations emerging from local government labs and universities. Enter the Cleantech Fellows Institute, a Colorado Cleantech Industry Association (CCIA) program established to do exactly that.

The Institute kicked off in 2012, with a class of 5 Fellows who had considerable entrepreneurial experience outside the cleantech industry. The Fellows knew how to start a business, but they didn’t know cleantech, so they spent 175 curriculum hours listening to 160 speakers, and took almost 30 cleantech related tours, to come up to speed. Each Fellow undertook a capstone project centered on a new cleantech business idea, and in the Institute’s inaugural year this exercise led to the creation of two seed-stage companies and one non-profit.

Under the direction of Executive Director Steve Berens, the Institute is now accepting applications for its second class of Fellows. This year the program is undergoing some changes based on lessons learned from the first class, including an expanded international component. The program will include a week during which delegates from around the world descend on Colorado to participate in the Institute’s activities and make connections between the cleantech communities in Colorado and their home countries.

Clearly, Colorado is putting a lot of effort into stacking the odds in favor of the Fellows and the cleantech companies they hope will emerge from the Institute. The VC community has taken notice, as evidenced by the 19 venture capital partners the program has brought on board to date. However, there is room for additional engagement from Colorado based angels, who have an advantage in their ability to participate throughout the process since the Institute is based in their own backyard. Interested angels can send an email to mailto:info@cleantechfellows.comto learn more and sign up for regular email updates.

Even with all of the support Fellows will receive through the Institute, cleantech remains one of the most challenging industries in which to start a new venture. The Cleantech Fellows Institute provides access to critical knowledge and a great support network, which will reduce risks in my opinion but it certainly doesn’t come close to eliminating them. The real determinant of the program’s ability to spawn successful cleantech startups is underway right now: the Fellows application process. The quality of the Fellows accepted into the program will have the greatest influence on how successful it is, and the ability of local angels to get to know the Fellows over the course of the program is an opportunity that should not be missed.

Jay Holman is Principal of Venture to Market LLC, a Boulder based consultancy providing go to market services for new ventures in the cleantech industry.