By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Jetta Wong was a frequent visitor to the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region during her tenure with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), but her visit earlier this week was from a new base of operations – the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI).
DOE’s first Director of the Office of Technology Transitions spoke at several events on Tuesday during “Innov865 Week.” Wong, who now serves as LACI’s Senior Advisor for Northern California Operations, keynoted the “Technov865 Showcase” co-hosted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF).
As DOE’s largest science and energy laboratory, ORNL plays a major role in the development of new energy technologies. Commercializing those inventions has been impacted by a precipitous decline in venture investment, something Wong noted in her presentation.
“Cleantech venture funding declined 85 percent between 2007 and 2014,” she said. The gap is being filled in part by philanthropic and mission-based organizations, but DOE is also launching some new programs to help.
Wong cited a $1 million grant to the Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust and a $600,000 grant to LACI. In the case of her organization, Wong said the just announced funding will be used to help make low-cost microloans to early stage companies.
Prior to her afternoon presentation at the “Technov865 Showcase,” Wong spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) and interacted with the entrepreneurs that are part of ORNL’s new “Innovation Crossroads” initiative designed to help advance promising new energy technologies.
“We need to think about new innovation models,” Wong told the TAEBC luncheon attendees. She cited some of the exciting initiatives underway at the lab that included “Innovation Crossroads” and the pursuit of low-cost carbon fiber through the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility and advanced manufacturing technologies and processes at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.
Wong also called-out DOE’s Small Business Vouchers Program that involved a number of labs, including ORNL. Nearly 150 companies benefitted from the three rounds of grants that allowed them to work with researchers.
The “Technov865 Showcase” also featured presentations from six individuals described as UTRF Innovators and the three start-ups participating in ORNL’s “Innovation Crossroads” initiative and a preview of five technologies that ORNL will spotlight on October 3 during an all-day “Technology Innovation Program Showcase.”