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America's Next Top Innovator: Lab Tech for Startups

March 27, 2013 - 12:59pm

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The America’s Next Top Energy Innovator program, a part of the Startup America initiative, makes it easier for start-ups to use inventions and technology developed at Energy Department labs and facilities. | Photo courtesy of NREL, credit Jim Yost.

The America’s Next Top Energy Innovator program, a part of the Startup America initiative, makes it easier for start-ups to use inventions and technology developed at Energy Department labs and facilities. | Photo courtesy of NREL, credit Jim Yost.

For nearly three years, America’s Next Top Energy Innovator Program (a part of President Obama’s Startup America initiative) has made it easier for startups to use inventions and technology developed at the Energy Department’s National Laboratories and facilities. As Secretary Chu put it, by reducing barriers for companies eager to bring these technologies to market, we are “unleashing startup companies to do what they do best: create new products, new industries and new jobs.”

The program works by lowering the cost of an option agreement for up to three patents to $1,000 and deferring patent costs for startup companies. An option agreement is a precursor to a license agreement -- and gives companies a period of time (typically 12 months) to evaluate the technology and assemble the resources required to commercialize the technology. This helps eliminate barriers to tech-transfer, and encourages large-scale private/public partnerships with U.S. industry.

Many of the technologies available for licensing can be found on the Energy Innovation Portal. Additionally, several of the labs maintain their own online database for technologies that fall outside of the categories on the Energy Innovation Portal.

After the startup finds a technology, the next step is to submit an inquiry to the relevant lab indicating interest in the technology. All technologies listed on the Energy Innovation Portal include a box to submit an inquiry to the relevant lab.  For technologies listed on individual laboratory websites, the relevant licensing contact can be found in the Licensing Guide and Sample License.  Once it is determined that the technology is available for licensing, the startup company will need to submit a business plan and complete an Option Agreement.

This year, the class of eligible startups has been expanded to companies that are less than five years old, have less than 50 employees and have received less than $5 million in funding since incorporation.

In a recent speech to the scientists and researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, President Obama noted that the achievements our country has made in reducing oil imports and increasing oil, natural gas and renewable energy here at home are due “in part, because of labs like this and outstanding scientists…entrepreneurs, innovators -- all of you who are working together to take your discoveries and turn them into a business.” By continuing our commitment to establishing meaningful partnerships with the private sector, the Energy Department is ensuring our scientific discoveries lead to new products and services – and helping strengthen our global economic competitiveness.  

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