Lofty CREED: Make Colorado the center of the cleantech universe
Besides a cure for cancer and world peace, developing clean technologies and finding a renewable energy source are the scientific world's Holy Grail and a primary preoccupation of a great many smart people.
But developing clean technology is a relatively new and wildly diverse field. Many great ideas backed by startup companies and enthusiastic employees are searching for the missing pieces to take their products and ideas to the next level. Bringing these pieces together is the purpose of CREED.
The Colorado Center for Renewable Energy Economic Development was created to bring together new companies, established research operations and large corporations, and house them in one location where the players in this growing field can learn from each other and capitalize on the individual talents and skills that are so difficult to harness in one company.
"What this is about is supporting an ecosystem in Colorado for cleantech businesses," said Casey Porto, vice president for Commercialization and Deployment at the National Renewable Energy Labs in Golden. "We want to make Colorado the center of the universe for cleantech."
NREL is a relatively small portion of the Department of Energy and is part of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Funding for all of EERE is only about 5 percent of the DOE budget. Working on a fixed budget with little chance of more money from the DOE, Porto knew that to do her job and get NREL technology to market, she needed private sector help - a lot of it.
What she and NREL did have was a lot of extra office space on its Golden campus, so she worked with the Office of Economic Development and GEO and secured a $1.23 million grant from former Gov. Bill Ritter's administration. The funds were used to remodel the facility into offices that would accommodate a wide range of businesses that could be open to the public and not subject to NREL's security protocols. The funds were also used to help get CREED off the ground and attract the first incubators. This nearly four-year-long effort came to a head in March when CREED opened its doors - already the facility is full.
"More than anything, it is quickly becoming THE center of cleantech and renewable energy in Colorado; a catalyst that will not only help Colorado maintain its leadership role in the tech world, but expand it," said Stephen Miller, president and CEO of CleanLaunch, a Golden-based innovative technology incubator. "At CleanLaunch we consider it an opportunity and a privilege to work with such exceptional partners."
CREED is made up of a core group of "stakeholders" with varying specialties in renewable energy and clean technology. These stakeholders - essentially business and research incubators - attract organizations that fit their individual goals and help them secure money and talent to help further the group's overall goals.
"The great thing about CREED is the level of interaction," said Richard Adams, the director of CREED. "We're seeing a lot of interaction between the stakeholders themselves to solve issues with finding resources like grants or other sources of funds. They can go about that with a team approach."
Adams points out that grant money and other resources are finite and having several organizations competing for those resources is a waste of time and energy when they can come together and leverage each other's talents to put those funds to better use. He also said that companies with different specialties, such as manufacturing or marketing can more easily work with research and development organizations to test products and get them ready for market.
"What were the things missing in the Colorado marketplace? Lack of access to capital, lack of bankable CEO talent, lack of upstream manufacturing facilities..." Adams said. "For example, you could get a company off the ground, but there was no way to test manufacturing before going to full production."
The Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory is one example of a CREED stakeholder. This research collaborative was initiated at the request of Sen. Ken Salazar in March 2006 and is made up of the Colorado School of Mines, CU Boulder, Colorado State University, NREL and Stanford University.
"The goals of the Collaboratory are to create and commercialize renewable energy opportunities," said David Hiller, executive director. "It's also an economic driver for Colorado and the nation."
The Collaboratory was able to secure nearly $6 million in pledges over three years from the state of Colorado to be used as the 20 percent of matching funds that the DOE requires for its grants. As of April 1, Hiller said the Collaboratory has been able to leverage these funds into $29 million for renewable energy research.
This collaboration of efforts anchored by CREED is making Colorado and Golden a major hub of renewable energy research and will hopefully create hundreds of high-paying jobs.
"I can't tell you how amazing this whole thing has been," Porto said. "I wasn't sure what the appetite was for this. But we're barely tapping the need right now."
For more information on the Colorado Center for Renewable Energy Economic Development or one of its stakeholders, visit its website at www.creed.org. ∴