Transforming Research into Market Impact through DOE Lab-Corps

In late February, DOE’s Lab-Corps kicked off the opening session of Cohort 5. Since launched in 2015, Lab-Corps is transforming research into market impact throughout the National Lab system. Built on the validated National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) Model, the two-month program provides scientists with a better understanding of the commercialization process.

Cohort 5 consists of 12 teams with one from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), four out of Idaho National Laboratory (INL), and seven from NREL.Each team is made up of a Principal Investigator (PI), Entrepreneurial Lead (EL), and an Industry Mentor (IM) from outside the lab.  Learn more about the past and present Lab-Corps teams.

Through this entrepreneurial training, the teams discover unique applications of their technology for various customer segments. Here is a one such breakthrough for Team MECs from Cohort 4, out of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL): Congwang Ye and Lionel Keene initially expected their carbon capture microcapsule technology to be implemented in power plants, but after ‘getting out of the building’ and conducting roughly 100 interviews for their customer discovery process, Team MECs discovered a readily available market need: carbon reclamation for the beer brewing industry. Read full story.

Another team from Cohort 4, CryoH2, is working on cryogenic compression and hydrogen fuel cell applications in the transportation sector.  The team’s PI, Guillaume Petitpas of LLNL, found the Lab-Corps experience to be mind-opening and very valuable to his research: “My time with my Lab-Corps team opened my mind about issues like marketing, product viability, profitability, distribution and possible venues for this technology.” Learn more about CyroH2 and their commercialization path.

Yet another success of the program is Eco-Snap, an NREL team and cooling technology from the very first Lab-Corps cohort.  The NREL researchers from the Eco-Snap team are working with Ystrategies Corp. to continue the development of the product design and commercialization of this innovative cooling technology and Ystrategies Corp. has entered into an agreement with NREL for rights to the intellectual property associated with Eco-Snap.  Eco-Snap co-inventors Chuck Booten and Jon Winkler have pioneered the commercialization pathways for their peers in the national lab system, and continue to venture down their tech-to-market road two years after their Lab-Corps experience. Learn more about NREL’s new deal with Ystrategies.

Even for the seasoned industry mentors from outside the lab, Lab-Corps is proving to be a very valuable program.  Bill Schafer, CEO of Energy Integration, Inc. and the IM for Team CuB Fuels (NREL-Cohort 5) noticed the leaps and bounds his team is already making after absorbing the fire hose of training during the opening session.  Compared to the progress they’ve made in the first week of the program, Bill notes “unfortunately, it took me nine [startup] experiences to get to this point.”

Whether the Lab-Corps teams spin-off into a startup, form an industry partnership, license their technology to another firm, or return to the lab with a new perspective and focus, the universal success of DOE’s Lab-Corps lies in the shifting paradigm for the researchers-turned-entrepreneurs.  When they return to the lab, the scientists are equipped with fresh insights and ideas on how to develop and apply new technology to address energy issues through entrepreneurship.  Like a metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, Lab-Corps teams emerge from the cohort chrysalis with new wings to carry them through their next project or toward the launch of a startup.

Since 2015, Lab-Corps has trained over 50 teams, which have raised over $8 Million in follow-on funding.   For more updates and successes and to follow the two upcoming cohorts, see the Lab-Corps year in review.

Lab-Corps teams are competitively selected by the Department of Energy (DOE) Tech Offices, with the goal of bringing their federally-funded technology to market. 

By J.A. Colantonio, DOE Lab-Corps Team Member


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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