Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) has introduced the Energy Innovation Corps Act (H.R. 7934) to help Department of Energy (DOE) National Lab researchers team with students and entrepreneurs to turn their research into clean energy innovations and other innovative energy products and services.
"The research being conducted at our Department of Energy National Labs by world-class scientists and engineers has the potential to be turned into clean energy innovations and other innovative products and services, but many researchers need help in turning research findings into marketable products and services," said Rep. Lipinski. "The Energy Innovation Corps Act will help team DOE employees with other researchers, students, and clean energy entrepreneurs and provide them with the entrepreneurial tools they need. Innovation Corps has a proven track record of success in helping researchers turn taxpayer research investments into goods and services to benefit Americans. It is important that we acknowledge the value of this program within the DOE and expand it to spur greater innovation."
The Energy Innovation Corps Act will accelerate deployment of new technologies developed within the Department of Energy by requiring the Department to maintain and expand their current Energy I-Corps pilot program, which provides researchers with training in market awareness, customer discovery, and entrepreneurial skills.
The bill authorizes $3 million for each fiscal year 2021-2025 to continue training National Laboratory researchers and allocates an additional $2 million each year for other energy researchers and entrepreneurs, including students. These training courses, seminars, and mentoring activities would provide the necessary resources to support additional innovators. This support helps researchers more rapidly transition their research into commercializeable products that meet public needs, including clean energy technologies, advanced manufacturing techniques, and new tools to further scientific advancement. Furthermore, the bill recommends that the Department of Energy coordinate with other federal scientific agencies that carry out similar entrepreneurial and commercial application training, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), to share best practices and successful curriculum.
I-Corps first began at NSF to incorporate Steve Blank's Lean LaunchPad methodology into an entrepreneurial training program aimed at getting researchers out-of-the-lab and into the marketplace. Rep. Lipinski has long championed the NSF I-Corps program, leading the effort to authorize and expand the successful training program across other agencies.
The Department of Energy began piloting their own version of I-Corps in 2015, bringing cohorts of national lab researchers together to benefit from this immersive learning experience. Since the start of the program over 100 teams from 11 national labs have participated. An independent evaluation of the program found that Energy I-Corps has very high potential to increase the commercialization of trained researchers' lab technologies. Six teams have already launched new businesses and generated more than $31 million in follow-on funding.
Argonne National Laboratory, which is partially located in Congressman Lipinski's congressional district, has sent multiple teams to participate, learning about the potential to bring their technologies to market, including innovations that help locate costly air leaks in buildings, recover spilled oil from bodies of water, and stabilize anode/cathode materials within rechargeable batteries to improve performance.