For many of us in the energy and climate field, this is the moment we have been working toward for years. A wave of change and opportunity to transform our energy systems, bringing with it the chance to do things right. To address the urgency of climate change. To center underrepresented and underestimated communities and populations in the abundant opportunities ahead. To democratize our energy system by making more innovative solutions available to more people. To increase energy affordability and technology access. To create new businesses and jobs that hold the promise of economic growth and resilience. What’s maybe most exciting is that this moment may have been greatly anticipated by those of us in this sector, but the opportunities ahead will welcome many new people and perspectives into building the new energy systems and related cleantech economy.
Partnerships Mean Everything
It was with this hope and potential in mind, that I approached Gregg Mast, Executive Director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota (CEEM) with an idea. What would it take to establish a clean energy accelerator in Minnesota that strengthened the market pathways for innovation and startups? Gregg has been leading CEEM for the past six years, but his experience in finance and emerging technology spans his entire career. His answer to this question of possibility mattered. He shared the stories of other previous attempts to make this happen and how they went astray. Importantly, he noted that this time it could be different.
Ten months and dozens of phone calls later, we had forged a partnership for CEEM to host Grid Catalyst as a program launching in June 2021. Not only did this leverage Gregg’s expert guidance, but the entire CEEM team became an extended family for Grid Catalyst, helping us reach more audiences, refine our vision, and forge new partnerships.
I am incredibly proud and grateful for our collective success during the year of partnership (some highlights noted below). As we forge a path into 2023, we are proud to announce that we have made a change to better position our work and our partner startups for investment and opportunity. Grid Catalyst has incorporated, which has already enabled us to pursue two new federal funding opportunities.
However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that the growth in the market creates opportunities for everyone and that we grow a thriving and equitable clean energy economy in Minnesota. Therefore, we have solidified a fiscal sponsorship with CEEM to continue building our Energy Innovation Hub platform, which will provide programming for early and mid-stage innovators, grow collaboration with sector partners, and create more opportunities and resources for diverse founders to thrive and lead in our ecosystem. This is the epitome of coalition work, so we invite any partners interested in building the energy innovation ecosystem to reach out to us to explore partnership, mentorship, and investment opportunities. Our next project will be a student-centered pilot on STEM-innovation experiences.
Sometimes it is hard to believe what we have accomplished in such a short period of time, but I think it speaks volumes to the commitment of our partners in this work and the momentum of the moment. We are in the early stages of an energy and climate technology revolution unlike this generation has ever known.
Grid Catalyst Program Highlights – 2021 and 2022 – Enabled by our partnership with Clean Energy Economy Minnesota
- Formation of our Innovators Network of regional partners supporting innovation demonstrations.
- Recruitment and placement of our inaugural demonstration cohort, with five high-caliber startups in long-duration storage, grid-forming inverters, window shield retrofits, geothermal, and climate stewardship mobile applications.
- Forging a partnership with Wells Fargo that enabled our Equity and Access framework developed in partnership with the Center for Economic Inclusion and laying the foundation for our Energy Innovation Hub.
- Becoming the Northern Plains convener for the EnergyTech University Prize, presented by the Department of Energy and a member of the American Made Challenges Connector network.
- Launching our FounderCurious series to welcome more diverse founders into the energy and climate innovation ecosystem.
- Expanding our team to welcome two incredible graduate students from the University of Minnesota as 2022 fellows.
- Working with a network of national incubator and accelerator programs to advocate for the passage of the CHIPS and Science act, which creates a National Energy Incubator program – a crucial investment to enable our program to grow in future years.
- Increasing Minnesota’s readiness to compete in a wave of public and private investments in innovation, including those created by the Inflation Reduction Act. Read our letter to the editor.
The Next Chapter
Our partnership with CEEM has been an integral part of our launch and initial success as an accelerator program. Through our work together, we have envisioned and activated the beginning of something truly transformative for our region. Minnesota is fortunate to have this small but mighty team at CEEM driving our clean energy economy forward, creating jobs, and building the partnerships that will make the vision of 100,000 clean energy jobs by 2030, a reality for our state. I will be forever grateful for their support and commitment to making our program a reality. And I am truly excited for this next chapter for our partnership and for the energy innovation ecosystem in Minnesota.