Empowering Clean Technology Commercialization

Commercializing a technology is hard work!  For entrepreneurs, the commercialization process can be long, arduous and risky, with no tried and true blueprint to follow. But given seemingly insurmountable odds, entrepreneurs can and do bring impactful innovations to market every day; innovations that can change the energy equation and help us transform the future of sustainable energy.

NREL’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center (IEC) supports entrepreneurs through this journey by providing access to critical resources through a variety of programs and events.  Through our center’s initiatives, we strive to address identified gaps in the commercialization process and create platforms to enable entrepreneurs to overcome challenges and move their technologies into the marketplace.

CHALLENGE: Technological Barriers to Commercialization

Technology startups often face their first major hurdle early on in the development of a technology when lab-scale research is developed, refined, and tested to prove market viability. Private capital can be scarce during this stage, and many startups will fail to progress without external funding. Two IEC programs seek to assist startups to overcome these technical barriers to commercialize – the NCAP program and the Innovation Incubator (IN2).

NREL Commercialization Assistance Program (NCAP)

NCAP helps emerging companies overcome technical barriers to commercializing clean energy technology. The program specifically helps renewable energy and energy efficiency companies by providing free assistance or information to help small businesses with specific technology questions or needs. NREL seeks to provide assistance that is not readily available in the private sector. Examples of assistance include short term access to technical expertise and facilities such as:

  • Test and measurement of systems or components
  • Analytical testing of materials
  • Assistance in addressing technological performance and market analysis
  • Addressing general technology problems.

Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator- IN

IN2 is a $10 million, 5 year program funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and co-administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Launched in July 2014, IN2 seeks to provide up to $250,000 to select small businesses to work with the Laboratory to further develop the technology and to receive business- support funding. Years 1 and 2 will focus on supporting energy efficient startups with innovative technologies applicable to the commercial buildings space. Check out our recent blog by Ashley Grosh, Wells Fargo to learn more about the program!

CHALLENGE: Financial Barriers to Commercial Scale-Up

Another significant obstacle clean energy startups face will occur during the scale-up from proof of concept to commercial viability. This is particularly challenging for capital-intensive energy hardware technologies. The IEC’s flagship program, the NREL Industry Growth Forum, strives to lessen these growing pains for young startups by connecting them with receptive sources of capital and partnering opportunities.

NREL Industry Growth Forum (November 3-4, 2015 l Denver, CO) 

For over two decades, the NREL Forum has been the nation’s premier clean energy investment event. 30 emerging clean energy companies are selected to pitch during the two-day Forum, accompanied by structured one-on-one meetings and networking opportunities. The IGF convenes they key industry players by bringing cutting edge startups together with a wide-range of active investors, strategic partners and potential customers. It has grown to be the perfect venue for growing companies to prepare, refine, and present their businesses to a wide range of investors. And it is having an impact- collectively companies who have presented at the IGF since 2003 have raised more than $5 billion in growth financing.

2015 Application Window: May 18 – July 17

CHALLENGE: Support Network

Startups require not only the technical and financial ability to commercialize a technology, but also the support of a strong and robust network infrastructure. In addition to connecting resources on a national scale, NREL supports the development of the local Colorado cleantech ecosystem by managing The Colorado Center for Renewable Energy Development (CREED).

CREED is a catalyst for economic development in Colorado through clean energy and energy efficiency innovation and entrepreneurship. Our stakeholders support the creation and growth of cleantech companies throughout the State of Colorado.

CREED acts as a knowledge center, coordinating resources and providing opportunities for entrepreneurs, cleantech companies, investors, and the general public throughout the State of Colorado. Primary programs include events in the Entrepreneur & Finance Series, providing entrepreneur education and facilitated networking opportunities throughout the year. The commercialization pathway remains a long and difficult road for startups, but resources to support the transition continue to increase.

The IEC looks forward to continued close collaboration with entrepreneurs, investors, and industry partners and will continue to support the growth and adoption of clean energy innovations.


Kate Cheesbrough, Deputy Director, Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center


All readers are encouraged to leave comments. While all points of view are welcome on the NREL Industry Growth Forum blog, only comments that are courteous and on-topic will be posted. All comments will be reviewed, and NREL reserves the right to post comments at its discretion.

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