The Innovation Incubator (IN2) is now a $30 million program supporting a technology incubator and provides a platform to support early-stage clean tech startup companies to overcome market gaps by providing access to both technical assistance and project support funding.

Clean-technology Incubator Program Expands Focus Beyond Commercial Buildings

Ashley Grosh and Richard Adams | Wells Fargo

What is the IN2 Program?

Launched in 2014 with an initial $10 million commitment by the Wells Fargo Foundation, and expanded in 2017, the Innovation Incubator (IN2) is now a $30 million program supporting a technology incubator and  provides a platform to support early-stage clean tech startup companies to overcome market gaps by providing access to both technical assistance and project support funding. Unlike traditional incubator and accelerator programs, IN2 is positioned to help companies think about their end customer, providing technical assistance that leverages the capabilities, facilities, equipment and most importantly, the deep expertise that exists at NREL and other national laboratories. Additionally, IN2  offers access to the buildings portfolio of Wells Fargo to help companies accomplish meaningful lab and real-life technology testing.

Through our IN2 Channel Partner Awards Program, IN2 provides additional grant funding to the clean energy ecosystem, including accelerators, incubators, universities, and other key stakeholders to programmatically expand and strategically direct funds to support a more comprehensive approach to growth of the ecosystem.


Who can apply, how does it work and what is the timetable?

IN2 sources potential program participants from more than 40 universities and regional accelerator programs that serve as channel partners.

After the companies have been scored and ranked by NREL technical experts and a Board made up of Wells Fargo subject matter experts, an independent Advisory Board made up of industry experts ultimately selects companies to be included in the IN2 program. Companies invited to apply are required to complete an application, including a project support request, an outline of their technical status and a brief business plan.

Once companies are accepted into the program, they receive up to $250,000 in non-dilutive funding from Wells Fargo, including funding, technical support and validation from experts at NREL’s facilities in Golden, Colo. Over the course of twelve to 18 months, participating companies have access to NREL’s world-class facilities and researchers, who will test, validate, and incubate the companies’ technologies to help them meet critical validation milestones on the path to commercialization.


What led Wells Fargo to develop and fund a program like this?

The IN2 program launched in October 2014 as part of Wells Fargo’s 2020 Environmental Commitment that includes providing $100 million to environmentally focused nonprofits and universities from 2012 through 2020. One of the drivers to launch IN2 was to create an ecosystem that fosters and accelerates the commercialization of promising commercial buildings technologies that can provide scalable solutions to reduce the energy impact of buildings.

As a leading financial institution with nearly 100 million square feet of real estate around the globe and a broad geographical footprint, Wells Fargo is well positioned to lead change by embracing innovation and supporting advancements in clean technologies to improve local communities and the environment. This program was developed to advance the commercialization of new sustainable technologies by validating them in the lab and then piloting them in select Wells Fargo locations. We have recently announced additional funding through the IN2 program to target other sectors such as transportation and sustainable agriculture.


Why is the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) the right partner for this program?

NREL gives U.S. entrepreneurs a competitive edge in the global energy race. We bridge the gap from concept to market. As a core part of our mission, NREL is the only national laboratory that regularly links R&D with real-world applications.

NREL has developed a unique expertise in conducting incubation programs that accelerate the technology commercialization process, reduce technology risk and most importantly, utilize deployment and testing of technology in real world operating situations with end-use customers to ensure a reduction in market risk. We have established systems and methodologies and leverage our extensive network of early-stage technology companies, investors, incubators, accelerators, and industry contacts to ensure a successful advanced energy technology development and deployment program.


To date, the IN2 Program has focused on commercial building related technologies. How did you select that topic area?

Wells Fargo has nearly 100 million square feet of real estate around the world and aggressive operational efficiency goals. This was a huge driver for why the incubator started with commercial buildings.

Buildings consume more than 40 percent of the energy in the U.S., representing an opportunity to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on energy consumption, human health and the natural environment. Additionally, this sector provides a substantial market opportunity for new technology deployment at scale, ensuring new job creation and growth. Coupled with the reduction in energy consumption, this also supports U.S. energy independence.

The current scope of the program includes the following advanced energy technology areas: energy efficiency, net zero energy, water efficiency, sensors and controls, windows, lighting, skylights and doors, plug loads, indoor environmental quality enhancement, waste reduction, buildings water management and treatment, materials efficiency, operations and maintenance optimization and datacenter facilities management.


Will the program be expanded to other environments in the future? 

As the program expands in 2017 and beyond, IN2 will leverage its commercialization model to accommodate new technology areas, such as sustainable mobility, agriculture, residential buildings, food and micro grids. It is intended that between 2017 and 2020, we will add another 20 to 30 companies from these technology sectors.


IN2 has now grown into a $30 Million program. What do you see as the future of this effort?

The ultimate goal is to link each of the technology areas to provide a holistic approach to advanced technology development and deployment that drives new investment and jobs, provides U.S. energy security and ensures a comprehensive operating environment in which systems work harmoniously. The advanced energy technology areas that IN2 is focusing on allow us to build out this notion of a smart and connected community that aims to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on energy consumption, human health and the natural environment by connecting these advanced energy technologies together and allowing them to work together.

The IN2 program is unique in that it utilizes a supportive ecosystem approach in which awardee companies are able to better leverage the resources provided by the program. Our inclusive network is comprised of 40+ channel partners, investors, end-use customers, subject matter experts and operating partners, to name a few. This unique public/private partnership between a global financial institution and a national laboratory has yielded a comprehensive program that fosters new technologies by collaborating and utilizing an wide variety of experts.

As we look towards the future, IN2 is focused on seeking other Fortune 50 companies and additional corporate companies to plug in to the program. These corporate partners, investors, cities and communities will help us to grow the program and create more of an impact by providing sponsorship dollars where they can benefit or contribute if they are interested in energy storage, building controls, etc.  


The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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