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Title: University of Utah, Energy Commercialization Center

During the Energy Commercialization Center’s (ECC) three years in operation, the only thing constant was change. The world of commercialization and cleantech evolved significantly during the time the ECC was formed and operating, including: the availability of cleantech funding lessoned, the growth of incubators and accelerators skyrocketed, the State of Utah created an office dedicated to energy development, the University of Utah was both praised and criticized for its success in commercialization, and the Federal government temporarily shut down. During the three-year grant there were three principle investigators on the grant, as well as three directors for the University’s Commercialization Office. Change can be hard for an organization,but as we instruct the companies we support, “Fail fast and fail often, because it is the fastest path to success.” Although there were some unanticipated challenges along the way, the local ecosystem is stronger because of the ECC’s efforts. Perhaps the greatest lesson learned was the importance of aligned incentives between key stakeholders in the commercialization process and the need for resources at the company and individual entrepreneur levels. The universities have systems and incentives to commercialize technologies, but creating value and companies generally rest with the individuals and entrepreneurs. Unfortunately themore » ECC was unable to create a viable mechanism to transfer the commercialization process that successfully aligned incentives and achieve a more effective ecosystem within the Rocky Mountain West. However, the ECC was successful in adding value to the individual ecosystems, and connecting national resources to regional and local needs. Regarding the ECC’s effectiveness in developing a cleantech commercialization ecosystem, initial inroads and relationships were established with key stakeholders. However, incentives, perceived or real competition, differences in commercialization processes, and culture all played a role in inhibiting the development and distribution of a regional ecosystem and commercialization process. Had the University and the ECC been able to develop a software platform, some of these challenges may have been overcome, but without the final development and release of the Western Innovation Network, the ECC realistically could not scale and distribute a commercialization platform. Further, cleantech startups need to engage in a more intensive customer validation process, and establish strong community connections if they are to succeed in commercializing their products. The university system incentivizes research and access to research funding and risk capital is competitive, so by nature collaboration on commercialization was difficult. Each of the local ecosystems within the Rocky Mountain West was unique. Utah did not, and does not, have a system outside of the universities to support entrepreneurs and cleantech commercialization. Through the ECC’s efforts developing a regional ecosystem, it became clear that successful ecosystems had a community and associated mechanisms that supported local entrepreneurs and startups. Most importantly the ECC aided in the creation of Utah’s cleantech ecosystem, one that supports entrepreneurs and startup companies that need help and support in their efforts to commercialize clean technologies. The absence of support for clean tech from state government and local organizations was a significant impediment to cleantech commercialization. To overcome this challenge, the ECC has formed Sustainable Startups. Sustainable Startups is a new non-profit organization designed to build a culture and community in Utah that supports and understands the importance of cleantech and sustainable development. While the ECC generated mixed success in building a regional commercialization ecosystem for cleantech, the organization did provide tremendous benefit to startups and the broader public. Over 60 companies were given direct business development support by the ECC, many of whom then generated direct economic development impacts. In addition, the ECC served an important role as community convener, educator and relationship builder through hosting numerous public and private events including: Energize 2013; Millennial Train whistle stop; business plan competition supporter; Clean Tech Open Accelerator organizer; Sustainable Startups Series developer, and much more. While the ECC did not fully apply, develop, and transmit the University of Utah’s TCO commercialization model to cleantech, it nevertheless assisted numerous inventors, entrepreneurs and institutions in furthering the growth of clean energy and energy efficiency technologies. The TCO’s commercialization model was not applied to regional clean tech initiatives for several main reasons. First, flaws with the commercialization model were realized after the ECC’s formation. Second, leadership changes within the TCO and ECC hampered early organizational development and implementation initiatives. Third, misaligned incentives between the ECC, regional universities, institutions, and the State of Utah resulted in a lack of collaboration and knowledge transfer regarding commercialization. In principle, everyone was aligned and willing to collaborate, but reality was much different and challenging.« less
  1. Univ. of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT (United States)
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Technical Report
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Univ. of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT (United States)
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United States