Entrepreneurs Get Boost from Proof-of-Concept Centers

The Academy and NYSERDA are helping researchers turn their ideas for clean energy technologies into marketable products through grants, mentoring, and networking.

There are many bright minds researching and developing clean technology that far surpasses what is currently available on the commercial market-unfortunately, many of these concepts never leave the lab. Translating basic research conducted in academic institutions into new clean-tech alternatives is a daunting task, which is why the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)  supports Proof of Concept Centers (POCCs) dedicated to helping inventors and scientists turn their high-tech, clean-energy ideas into successful businesses.. By providing research teams with funding, mentorship, networking, and business opportunities, the POCCs are helping to meet real-world clean energy needs and creating more New York State-based clean tech startup businesses.

To apply to the POCCs, teams must complete a, brief description that contains an overview of the technology they are seeking to commercialize and an overview of the market for this product. After a review from the judges, teams are asked to respond to 8-10 open-ended questions ranging from the potential energy impact of the products to competing technologies currently on the market. "The judges are seeking applicants that are focused, motivated, and interested in commercialization," according to Doug Buerkle, Executive Director of the POCC NEXUS-NY.

Up to $150,000 is awarded to individual teams to help turn their ideas into products that would be of interest to industry and investors in a shorter period of time (five years from prototype to market instead of the typical 5-10 years). Teams are comprised of two or more individuals-including a technical lead and an entrepreneurial lead-and all teams are assigned a mentor. Frank Zammataro, a mentor to teams at the POCC PowerBridgeNY, notes that "You don't know if what you're doing is right or wrong until you start to do it. Getting it into the market and into the hands of real users and real customers as soon as possible to really flesh out the reality of making whatever they're developing necessary and needed by the commercial market."

Besides the financial and mentoring support, the POCCs also provide valuable networking opportunities to the teams. "It's been recognized that having a robust network available to people working in technology is really important. A person in the laboratory is an expert on the technology but they have not necessarily ever taken a business class, have run a business, or have put together a financial plan or business plan," says Karin Pavese, a consultant on the project. "These proof-of-content centers really provide this robust network to help facilitate that movement of technology out to the marketplace."