Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory selected five “Power Connectors” to help grow its American-Made Solar Prize, a $3 million competition designed to revitalize U.S. solar manufacturing. The Power Connectors support the prize by recruiting competitors and partners, among other activities. The Department of Energy (DOE), which provided seed funding for Elemental Excelerator in 2009, selected us as one of the five Power Connectors. If you’re interested in applying have a look at the prize information and competition rules, and email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the past couple of months, we’ve been feeling quite reflective. After onboarding our largest cohort, selecting our first Equity & Access Track companies, and re-energizing our formal partnership with the DOE, we decided it was time to jot down the story of Elemental Excelerator.
This Story Starts in 2008
In January 2008, the State of Hawaii and the DOE signed into law the most aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in the U.S. at that time – 70% RPS by 2030. Knowing that Hawaii could not reach its renewable energy goals with its existing suite of technologies, funding from DOE was set aside for innovative solutions. A Hawaii nonprofit, the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research (PICHTR), was awarded the funding and incubated an accelerator program to do just that.
Meet Maurice Kaya. He was the administrator of Hawaii’s Energy Office for 20 years until HCEI was signed. Maurice left the State Energy Office in 2009 to join PICHTR and lead an innovation program to help Hawaii reach its clean energy goals. After a series of sushi dinners, Dawn Lippert entered the picture. She joined Maurice to run this new innovation program after leaving Booz Allen’s renewable energy team. She had worked on the HCEI legislation and the research as a member of the Booz Allen team contracted to the Department of Energy.
Early Learnings Led to Our 1st Pivot
Elemental Excelerator was initially modeled after traditional government grant programs like the Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy (ARPA-E) program, which competitively awarded grants for projects and culminated in the submission of a final report on the project’s outcome. We were even named after an acronym associated with our funding — HREDV (Hawaii Renewable Energy Development Venture).
We started funding projects in 2009 and within the first two years, we learned two important things:
- That companies need more than funding to succeed.
- That we need to take a systems approach to funding innovation. As a State, we would need innovation in water, agriculture, and especially mobility to reach our clean energy goals.
So, we changed our model.
The Outcome? A Late-Stage Accelerator Optimized for Impact.
2012: After extensive customer discovery-style interviews with other accelerators, national labs, startups, investors, and others, we found there was a critical gap in funding and resources for startups that have great technologies but need early adopters for proving product/market fit. We founded Energy Excelerator, a late-stage accelerator program, whose core focus was helping innovative companies commercialize their technologies.
2013: We won a $30 million award from the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research to scale our program. Through this award we have been able to fund 56 demonstration projects and 82 portfolio companies.
2014: We started growing a partner program that now includes global utilities, corporates, landowners, education institutions, and philanthropy.
2016: BrightBox Technologies became our first cash exit when they were acquired by NEXTracker. To date, 5 Elemental Excelerator portfolio companies have been acquired.
2017: We changed our name to Elemental Excelerator. Our new name more accurately reflects the work that we do across systems that impact infrastructure, the environment, and quality of life – including energy, water, agriculture, and transportation. The name also reflects our alignment with Emerson Collective, an organization created and led by Laurene Powell Jobs that is dedicated to removing barriers to opportunity so people can live to their full potential. Elemental Excelerator is a component of Emerson Collective’s Elemental practice, which focuses on strengthening the relationship between humanity and nature through scalable, equitable, and innovative solutions.
2018: We scaled our model of place-based innovation from Hawaii to California’s low-to-moderate income communities. Cohort 7 included our first Equity & Access companies: BioCellection, BlocPower, Microvi, Scoot, and Solstice.
2018: In addition to re-energizing our partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research awarded an additional $30 million to continue the work we are doing, and further expand our reach and impact. And with that, we’ve come full circle. Our portfolio companies and partners know we love a good circle!
Today: This is where you come in. We’re looking for the most innovative companies in the world. Will you be next?