i6 Green and What it Means for America's Innovation Economy

President Obama has given us a strong vision of what it’s going to take to win the future – that’s by out-innovating, out-educating and out-building the rest of the world. In order to realize that vision, America must keep up with the pace of technological advances that are greatly impacting the global economy. The truth is that in the 21st Century, world economies are trying to do more with limited resources, and part of that ultimately means we can not have an energy sector that is rooted in the infrastructure of the past.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) realizes that investments in clean technology can help to ensure that these new energy tools enable an America that is as economically sustainable as it is environmentally sustainable. 

That’s why we recently launched i6 Green– a $12 million multi-agency competitive grant program designed to identify, support, and reward the nation's best ideas for technology commercialization in six different regions of the country.This program has a specific focus on regional economic development and environmental sustainability through the advancement of Proof of Concept Centers.

A Proof of Concept Center can literally mean the difference between success and failure for an emerging small technology business. What they do is vital, by supporting all aspects of the entrepreneurship process, from technology demonstration and business plan development to providing early-stage access to capital and other resources to help innovators turn their ideas into real businesses.  As part of a Proof of Concept Center, a young business can have access to shared resources such as lab equipment and work spaces, which in turn helps them save money as they “boot-strap” to achieve their personal dream of launching their own company.

An excellent example of a Proof of Concept Center is the Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s (MIT) Deshpande Center. By moving technology and inventions from the labs at MIT into the marketplace, the Deshpande Center has helped companies like Active Spectrum develop analytics for biodiesel stability that can help optimize efficiency of energy usage. Additionally,  firms like 1366 Technologies to reduce the cost of silicon solar cell production that can help novel renewable energy sources maintain a cost effectiveness that benefits American citizens. By funding technology development that is derived from novel early-stage research and connecting innovators to the business community, the Proof of Concept Centers such as the Deshpande initiative help emerging technologies to materialize.

Through i6 Green, winning proposed centers will be supported by regional partnerships that draw upon a wide range of public, corporate, university, non-profit, and philanthropic stakeholders. Through this collaborative approach, new businesses in the clean energy sector will be supported as they turn their innovative, ground-breaking ideas into products that make our lives better and business that make our economy stronger. 

For more details on what is a Proof of Concept Center, check out the following publication by Christine A. Gulbranson and David B. Audretsch, "Proof of Concept Centers: Accelerating the Commercialization of University Research", J. Technol.Transfer (2008) 33: 249—258.).

The i6 Green participating agencies, as led by EDA, include the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. 

The Federal Funding Opportunity Notice is now public and can be found here.

John Fernandez is the Assistant Secretary for Economic Development at the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration
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