The Department of Energy national laboratories are American science and engineering powerhouses. These national treasures are generating innovative solutions to the world’s toughest energy challenges. However, promising solutions discovered at the laboratory bench can’t effectively address energy challenges unless and until they are successfully transferred to the marketplace as commercial products and services.
To help increase the rate at which national laboratory discoveries successfully transition into the private sector, the Energy Department today launched Lab-Corps, a new $2.3 million program that will train top lab researchers across the nation how to move high-impact national laboratory-invented technologies into the market. This pilot program supports the Obama Administration’s larger “Lab-to-Market” efforts, which focus on increasing the commercial impact of Federally-funded research and development and generating a greater return on taxpayer investment.
Lab-Corps, which is modeled on the National Science Foundation’s successful Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, is a specialized technology accelerator and commercialization training curriculum for researchers in our national laboratories who have developed potentially marketable technology breakthroughs. Lab-Corps will initially focus on clean energy technologies. Through Lab-Corps, select labs will support entrepreneurial teams to identify and pursue market applications for new clean energy technologies through direct engagement with industry, entrepreneurs, and investors.
In addition to accelerating successful technology transfer, Lab-Corps will support a commercialization training model that expands upon the popular Lean LaunchPad entrepreneurship curriculum. The Lab-Corps curriculum will be tailored to the unique features of the national laboratories in order to maximize commercial impact and enable lab technologists to pursue a variety of commercialization pathways that extend beyond startup development to include industry agreements, technology licensing, and other partnerships with the private sector.
Six national laboratories have been selected to participate in the Lab-Corps pilot program. Over the next year, five labs – Argonne National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory – will assemble, train, and support entrepreneurial teams to identify private sector opportunities for commercializing promising sustainable transportation, renewable power, and energy efficiency lab technologies.
A sixth – the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado – will leverage its deep expertise in technology commercialization and clean energy sectors to develop, deliver, and manage the Lab-Corps training program across the laboratory sites, with help from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratory.
If successful, the Lab-Corps pilot could be extended to other national laboratories, helping commercialize even more valuable discoveries across different sectors. Similarly, a recent collaboration between the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation is bringing this entrepreneurship training model to teams of biomedical researchers.
Programs such as Lab-Corps boost the American public’s return on investment in Federally-funded research by ensuring that more clean energy discoveries funded by taxpayer dollars in the national laboratories successfully make the leap to the marketplace. These commercialized discoveries in turn help cut carbon pollution, protect the environment, and drive our country’s clean energy economy forward.
Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
David Danielson is Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy