Obama announces major clean tech push in the US

14 Oct 2011

US President Barack Obama talks with staff in senior adviser David Plouffe's West Wing office at the White House, 6 October 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

With October being Energy Action Month in the US, President Barack Obama has announced a new clean energy plan to help small clean-tech businesses get access to federal opportunities all under one online portal. This ties in with Obama’s recent announcement that he is aiming for the US to take the global lead in pioneering a 21-century clean-energy economy. Six clean-tech start-ups have also won the i6 Green Challenge, as part of the Startup America plan.

On the White House blog, ‘Helping America’s Small Businesses Build a Clean Energy Future’, Karen Mills, administrator of the US Small Business Administration and Ray Mabus, US Navy secretary, posted details about the small business fund as part of the America Jobs Act to get people working again.

Due to the many emerging industries, such as clean tech, in the US, the White House has created the fund to help such self-starters continue to pioneer their clean-energy businesses and spawn future jobs.

The While House has created a new tool with Green.sba.gov, where companies can source federal opportunities, all from one portal.
“For the past year, the US Navy and the US Small Business Administration worked together to help Navy tap into the innovation that is happening throughout America’s strong and growing number of small, clean-energy businesses,” said Mills and Mabus on the blog.

The two entities set out to create a single web page where all of Navy’s green and renewable energy contracts could be found by small businesses. Following this, the SBA decided to collate sources of federal contract opportunities in clean energy.

“We added federal grant information. In addition, we included patent information so that these small firms could quickly find intellectual property information and licensing opportunities. And finally, we wrapped in all of the federal resources across several agencies that are available to help small, clean-energy firms,” they said.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programme gives about US$2.5bn annually government-wide to the most promising small firms. 

US Navy’s clean-tech targets

The US Navy has also set itself ambitious sustainability goals. It’s aiming to derive 50pc of energy consumption (offshore and onshore) from alternative sources by 2020.

Since the first Naval Energy Forum was held two years ago, 27pc of these proposed projects have focused on energy needs, with about 60 contracts of up to US$1.5m each being awarded annually.

One Navy SBIR recipient, for instance, found a way to eliminate the need for battery power on helicopter-damage tracking systems.  The result is that pilots flying in sandstorms in the Middle East now use this technology.  

Another Navy SBIR awardee created a system of high-tech buoys that harness the motions of waves to bring power back to the mainland Navy base.

Startup America – i6 Green Challenge

Back in late September, the Obama administration announced the six winners of the i6 Green Challenge, an initiative to propel technology commercialisation and entrepreneurship and spur on the US green innovation economy.

The six winners were:

  • Iowa Innovation Network i6 Green Project – Ames, Iowa
  • Proof of Concept Center for Green Chemistry Scale-up – Holland, Michigan
  • iGreen New England Partnership – New England
  • Igniting Innovation (I2) Cleantech Acceleration Network – Orlando, Florida
  • Louisiana Tech Proof of Concept Center – Ruston, Louisiana
  • Washington Clean Energy Partnership Project – Washington State

Each of the above mentioned projects will receive up to US$1m from the US Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) and up to US$6m in additional funding and technical assistance from the U.S. departments of agriculture and energy, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology and United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The winning i6 Green firms will also support emerging technology-based businesses as they mature and demonstrate their market potential, making them more attractive to investors and helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas and innovations into businesses.

“America’s economy depends on both innovation and commercialisation,” US chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra said at the time. “These six proof-of-concept centres will help to accelerate the commercialisation of products based on exciting new research and support the development of green jobs in regions across the country.”

High-growth entrepreneurship

First announced at the White House launch of Startup America in January, i6 Green follows last year’s inaugural i6 Challenge, which focused on accelerating high-growth entrepreneurship in the US.

With the trend for venture capitalists to go for more later-stage deals, his year’s competition focuses on promoting proof-of-concept centres’ methodologies, which support all aspects of the entrepreneurship process, from assisting with technology feasibility and business plan development, to providing access to early-stage capital and mentors that can offer critical guidance to innovators.

One such proof-of-concept centre is the Deshpande Center at MIT. It helps with the transfer of research into innovative activity and products and services for the marketplace.

“i6 Green is an important part of President Obama’s Startup America initiative to promote entrepreneurship and spur small business development,” Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes said in January. “These six projects will help to foster growth in green technologies and create jobs for America’s workers.”

Back in January 2011, at the announcement of Startup America, Obama declared his vision to get the US economy back on track: “Startup America (is) a national campaign to help win the future by knocking down barriers in the path of men and women in every corner of this country hoping to take a chance, follow a dream, and start a business.”

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic