Grid Catalyst, one of the first Midwest clean-energy business accelerators, will have its inaugural class of startups this fall.
The accelerator will focus on demonstrating and expanding "solutions for northern climates."
"Accelerator programs catalyze new leadership, investment, jobs and, in this case, advance positive climate action," said Grid Catalyst founder Nina Axelson, a veteran of the energy utilities and sustainability industries. "Too often, energy innovation gets stuck between the lab and the marketplace, because we lack opportunities to demonstrate in real world applications. When we can prove what's possible, we can transform the market."
In an interview Thursday, Axelson said there will be up to six startup businesses in the first group that will work with mentors and investors over six months to commercialize their technology. This will range from electrical devices to innovations in transportation, building software and heating-and-cooling technology.
The accelerator sponsor for the first year will be business-backed Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, which provides policy analysis and the business case for expansion of the state's green energy and conservation economy. That sector is expected to grow from about 60,000 to 100,000 jobs by 2030.
"Clean Energy Economy Minnesota has more than 40 member companies," said Gregg Mast, Clean Energy's executive director. "We can surround the small companies in the accelerator with resources and expertise. We can bring those partners to the table so that the path to market the product or service can be commercialized much faster."
The group's goal is to create 100,000 green energy jobs by 2030, and it sees Grid Catalyst as a key partner, he said.
The accelerator's backers say Minnesota has a supportive political environment, plus research institutions and technology companies that can develop the cold-climate innovations.
The Minnesota Legislature has passed and sent to Gov. Tim Walz bipartisan bills that call for $31 million in solar incentives over the next two fiscal years, the largest allocation since 2013. Most of the funding comes from a renewable-energy fund capitalized by Xcel Energy.
And Xcel and other Minnesota utilities plan to generate increasing amounts of energy from solar and other renewable sources, cutting their carbon emissions sharply by 2030.
Axelson said Grid Catalyst will bring together corporate sponsors, strategic investors, venture and angel investors who want ground-floor opportunities with next-generation small companies.
"This is not for products still in the lab," she said. "We will focus on demonstration. We will accelerate them through demonstration partners who can operate it, whether software or a metering device or a geothermal product that will be installed at a demonstration site, and operate in the real world. In 2022.''