The "valley of death" can make or break a startup enterprise due to the cost and time involved in getting from prototype to profitability. To help clean technology entrepreneurs and engineers navigate across the chasm and make it safely to the other side, the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) has announced the Build4Scale Manufacturing Training for Cleantech Entrepreneurs (Build4Scale) progam.
To kick off the program, EERE has tapped Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to lead development of the initiative's training program, funding $1 million over the next 10 months.
"The Department of Energy is committed to increasing U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and accelerating the movement of clean energy technologies to market," said EERE's Acting Assistant Secretary David Friedman. "Through Build4Scale, we are developing training that will help entrepreneurs turn their great ideas into clean energy products that can be made in the U.S.A."
Once developed, DOE seeks to eventually offer this training nationally through startup incubators, Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEPs), universities, community colleges or DOE national laboratories.
"Cleantech entrepreneurs are finding it a challenge to get from prototype stage up to scale; it's difficult for them to find the help they need," said Patrick Dempsey, the program's lead at LLNL and director of strategic engagements in Engineering. "We've gained quite a bit of experience in getting ideas to a producible form, and this Lab sees itself as having a responsibility to ensure that cleantech entrepreneurs are successful."
The training, Dempsey said, will cater to engineers and entrepreneurs who haven't had much exposure to manufacturing, teaching them about product design, material selection, quality control, sustainability, supply chain management and working with vendors.
Jeff Roberts, LLNL's deputy director for Energy and Climate who oversees EERE projects at the Lab, said Build4Scale would benefit from LLNL's successful implementation of DOE's entrepreneurial mentorship Lab-Corps program, a curriculum that has been adopted nationwide.
"It's one thing to build one product that's functional on a lab bench and it's another thing to build thousands of them," Roberts said. "Our Lab has an advantage because of where we're located, in the hotbed of innovation and Silicon Valley. I think we have a strong network and we've demonstrated that we can do it with the DOE's Lab-Corps program."
LLNL will collaborate with more than a dozen partners on the Build4Scale curriculum, including the Centers for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT), the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation (CNMI), Texas A&M University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Manufacturing Extension Partnerships and startup incubators in California and Massachusetts.
Michael Johnson, an associate professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M, and Alaa Elwany, an assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, will leverage their expertise to develop content focusing on material selection, production economics and advanced manufacturing processes.
"We are excited to team up with LLNL on Build4Scale," Elwany said. "This serves as an excellent continuation of collaborative initiatives between Texas A&M and LLNL on multiple fronts related to manufacturing education and research."
In helping develop Build4Scale, Somerville, Mass.-based Greentown Labs, the largest cleantech hardware incubator in the country, expects to leverage the experience gained from its Manufacturing Initiative, which has successfully connected hardware startups with local manufacturers and educated entrepreneurs on how to build their products faster. Once the training materials are ready, Greentown Labs will be one of a few testing grounds for the program.
"We're committed to helping cleantech startups get their products to market," said Greentown Labs program director Micaelah Morrill. "The more of these great inventions we can bring to the public, the better it is for all of us. We're excited to be working with a great group of people."