Former utility executive Nina Axelson spent years listening to energy startups with great ideas but no demonstration projects to showcase their progress. Axelson’s new venture, the accelerator Grid Catalyst, aims to address that weakness in Minnesota’s nascent clean energy entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In a collaboration with Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, Axelson plans to recruit four to six companies to Grid Catalyst to conduct demonstration projects for technology specifically built for cold weather climates. Clean Energy Economy Minnesota Executive Director Gregg Mast said he and his staff worked with Axelson for more than a year to develop the accelerator.
“The focus of the program is in perfect alignment with our mission as an organization, which is on growing clean energy jobs,” he said. “We also believe that there’s massive opportunities for the economy as we decarbonize. It’s a great fit.”
Axelson has a two-decade career in renewable energy, most recently as the vice president of sustainability for Ever-Green Energy, which plans and operates district energy solutions for communities and campuses. Grid Catalyst hopes to attract women and minority cleantech entrepreneurs, with early investment and counseling leading to more businesses and jobs.
Minnesota is a good place for an accelerator because of the state’s support for clean energy through legislation, regulation, and innovation, Axelson said. Clean energy accelerators in other parts of the United States and in Europe have moved innovation faster to market.
“We have lots of emerging tech in Minnesota that is poised to solve climate problems, to get us on the path of decarbonization, and to create jobs and new economic opportunities here,” Axelson said. “Sometimes you just need a platform, or some other thing to give it that nudge, and that can be an accelerator.”