Jacob Maranda NMSU's Arrowhead Center lands DOE award geared to foster energy startups | New Mexico State University - BE BOLD. Shape the Future.
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NMSU's Arrowhead Center lands DOE award geared to foster energy startups

doe-ceremony.jpgOriginal Article | Jacob Maranda | jmaranda@bizjournals.com | April 3, 2024

Officials from the U.S. Department of Energy joined leaders of New Mexico State University's Arrowhead Center Tuesday to announce the Center landed $150,000 in federal funds to support energy entrepreneurs and startups in the Southwest.

Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University (NMSU), an organization under the university that runs a slew of entrepreneurship and startup-focused programs, was one of 23 different incubators and accelerators across the country to land Department of Energy (DOE) dollars. Under its Office of Technology Transitions, the DOE awarded $150,000 to each of those 23 organizations through its Energy Program for Innovation Clusters, or EPIC, program.

That program, per the DOE's website, is "designed to encourage energy innovation ecosystems, increase local business productivity, and improve the commercial success of energy startups."

The Arrowhead Center's portion of the $3 million total, specifically, will help the Center launch a new program focused on energy and water technologies. Called the RenewTech Incubator and Accelerator, the program is built around "gaps" the Center identified in its existing energy-related programming, said Dana Catron, Arrowhead Center's deputy director.

RenewTech builds on the Arrowhead Center's New Mexico Clean Energy Resilience and Growth Cluster, or NMCERG, which the Center established in 2021 in partnership with the DOE through a $1 million cooperative agreement under the DOE's EPIC program.

One of those gaps, Catron said, was more direct support for startups outside of New Mexico relocating to the state to take advantage of the Arrowhead Center's energy-related programs.

"We wanted to have a base for them to set up when they get to New Mexico," she said about RenewTech.

The new incubator and accelerator is intended to support energy and water tech startups that are further along in their development by connecting founders with regional partners, such as national laboratories in New Mexico and private industry stakeholders.

It'll also provide startups access to an electricity testbed housed at New Mexico State University. The testbed facility sits across the street from the Arrowhead Center and allows technology testing in a closed microgrid system, separate from the commercial electrical grid.

Olga Lavrova, Ph.D., an associate professor of electrical engineering at NMSU who has partnered with Sandia National Laboratories on smart microgrid research, works with the university's testbed facility, which was funded in part by over $1 million in Congressionally directed spending and developed in partnership with El Paso Electric Co., a utility headquartered in El Paso.

Catron, in remarks at a public announcement in Las Cruces on Tuesday, said the mission of the new RenewTech Incubator and Accelerator is to "accelerate the development and deployment of technologies addressing critical energy and water challenges faced by underserved areas."

"By aligning market insights into the development process, we will ensure these emergent technologies are not only innovative but also market-ready," Catron said at the event. "Aligning technology with market needs is paramount, and our programming will be designed to support solutions that are both sustainable and economically viable."

Officials from the DOE's Office of Technology Transitions joined Catron and other Arrowhead Center leaders at Tuesday's event. The Center's work under the DOE's EPIC program dates back to 2020, when the Center landed an initial $50,000 award. It's since received a $1 million award to establish the NMCERG program, another $50,000 EPIC Round Two award, and, now, the $150,000 EPIC Round Three award for RenewTech.

The Round Three award is part of a multi-year program with the potential for "grand prize" winners to negotiate cooperative agreements with the DOE's Office of Technology Transitions worth up to $1 million, per the DOE's website.

"Their commitment to supporting emerging energy and water technology companies through mentorship, industry connections and access to resources is truly inspiring," Matt O'Brien, commercialization program manager for the DOE's Office of Technology Transitions, said Tuesday.

California-based company offers tech transfer example

Another person present at the announcement was Kristina McMillan, the CEO and co-founder of San Jose, California-based Argyle Earth.

The startup, founded in 2021, is developing a technology targeted at helping food and beverage manufacturers turn waste heat into electricity. McMillan said she joined the Arrowhead Center's NMCERG program in 2022 and has participated in over half a dozen demo days and other accelerators. Additionally, she has developed partnerships with Sandia National Laboratories and the Southwest Research Institute, a nonprofit based in San Antonio, Texas.

The company, McMillan added, received its first patent while working with NMCERG, as well.

One part of the DOE's EPIC program, which has supported the Arrowhead Center's energy-related startup programming, is a pitch competition for startups. Argyle Earth participated in an EPIC pitch competition in early 2023 and came in second place, earning a $20,000 cash award.

"The path of an energy startup is very long," McMillan said Tuesday. She compared developing an energy startup to parenting and said, like parenting, developing an energy startup requires surrounding oneself "with a village."

"The NMCERG team has been that village for us," McMillan continued. "They are frequently the first call that I make when I have a challenge or a question. It's not that I expect they will always have the answer, it's just that I trust their informed opinions and I know that they truly care."