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New National Labs Pilot Opens Doors to Small Businesses

July 8, 2015 - 1:31pm

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Through the new Small Business Vouchers Pilot, small businesses will be able to access tools like this large-scale 3D-printer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. | Photo courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Through the new Small Business Vouchers Pilot, small businesses will be able to access tools like this large-scale 3D-printer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. | Photo courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Small businesses make a big impact on America’s economy, adding more than one million employees last year. They are central to developing the new clean energy technologies that are needed to cut carbon pollution and improve the environment. However, small business entrepreneurs often lack the resources necessary to move their innovative ideas from their laboratory bench to the marketplace. 

Today, during the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative’s Southeast Regional Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, the Energy Department announced the national laboratories who will be taking the lead in implementing a new Small Business Vouchers Pilot, a public-private partnership that will connect clean energy innovators across the country with the top-notch scientists, engineers, and world-class facilities at our national laboratories. This effort, which is part of my office’s larger Lab Impact Initiative, will help small businesses bring next-generation clean energy technologies to the market faster by unleashing the vast science and engineering capabilities of the Energy Department’s national laboratories to solve small businesses’ most pressing challenges.

Today, we are announcing the competitive selection of five Energy Department National Laboratories to lead the $20 million pilot, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory ($5.6 million), National Renewable Energy Laboratory ($4.9 million), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory ($4.2 million), Sandia National Laboratories ($2.8 million), and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory ($2.7 million).

With this federal funding, in total, these labs will be providing vouchers, starting later this summer, to more than 100 small businesses, so they can access considerable lab expertise and tools that can help them test, validate, and introduce new products, expand their businesses, and grow the clean energy sector.

The labs chosen will focus on assisting small businesses developing specific clean energy technologies in the following areas: advanced manufacturing, buildings, vehicles, wind, water, bioenergy, fuel cells, geothermal and solar. In addition to providing vouchers to small businesses, lead labs will also be responsible for outreach, merit review coordination and match making between businesses and experts throughout the National Laboratory network. Other labs can also fulfill vouchers with small businesses. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will be encouraging the lead labs to expand outreach and communication efforts regarding their core competencies and cast a wide net into the small business community.

Here’s how the pilot will work:  

  • Later this summer, the Energy Department will launch the Small Business Central Assistance Platform, a web-based tool that will be used to exchange information between the labs and small businesses.
  • This Platform will be used to market the labs’ core capabilities in the topic areas of interest and will be used to accept applications from small businesses who want to participate in the program.
  • Individual vouchers will range from $50,000 to $300,000 per clean energy small business and can be used to initiate collaborative research projects or to access technical assistance with labs.
  • Three cycles of competitions will be offered to interested small businesses in the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years. 
  • Small business leaders interested in pursuing a voucher may reach participating labs through our Lab Impact Initiative: EERELabImpact@ee.doe.gov.

America is competing to win the global clean energy race. National Laboratories, our science and engineering powerhouses, are pivotal national resources for small and large companies commercializing clean energy products and technologies. New forms of public-private partnerships, like the Small Business Vouchers Pilot, will help our nation cross the finish line first and lead on clean energy.

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