Like a massive, 3D jigsaw puzzle, the rapidly evolving cleantech ecosystem comprises a complex web of technologies that are transforming our electric power grid, creating the next generation of clean, intelligent transportation options and enabling smarter, better-managed use of precious water resources.
In this puzzle, a single innovation may provide the piece needed to launch a new product line, new service or even a whole new industry.
That is the promise and potential of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster’s Entrepreneur members – startups and young firms identified and recommended for membership by larger, more established cluster members in hopes they will advance and extend cleantech’s edge.
New members work in energy, transportation and IoT
The RTCC currently counts five Entrepreneur members that are innovating across the cleantech value chain. Among them is Bright Wolf, an Internet of Things (IoT) software company that provides technology for connecting devices, machines, systems and people to enable intelligent solutions across all industries.
Two companies are changing the way power is delivered at the grid edge. Green Energy Corp., a microgrid software provider, engineers and designs microgrids using a cloud-based, open-source software platform to monitor, optimize and maintain one or a fleet of microgrids. Founding member in the Entrepreneur category is GridBridge, a developer and enabler of breakthrough power delivery systems that combine advanced electronics with innovative software to help customers manage the complexities of electrical networks with distributed devices.
Wilmington-based Koolbridge Solar saw good reason to connect to the Raleigh market. The startup develops smart solar technologies that aim to reduce the cost of solar power and improve performance by bridging residential and commercial solar systems with the electric power grid. A new five-year partnership with the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University will help the company attract federal grants and funding and move its technologies to market.
The Research Triangle Region is such a promising area for new ventures in clean technology that that new consulting outfits are forming. New member Nexus EMC, a mobility and energy technology consultancy, advises public and private clients on strategies for integrating emerging energy, transportation, mobility and autonomous technologies that improve efficiency and safety while generating positive return on investment. Additionally, the companies leverages its extensive network to help economic developers grow the cleantech economy.
“We created the Entrepreneur category of membership in recognition of the role RTCC can play, as a convener of the region’s largest industry players in the cleantech space, in spurring exposure for young companies with strong ideas and potential,” said RTCC Chairman Ed White. “These five companies are proving the power of our regional cleantech ecosystem by what they are contributing and receiving from cluster membership.”
Collaborations open new markets
A case in point is Green Energy Corp., nominated for membership by RTCC member Schneider Electric, a global energy management specialist. Schneider has teamed with Green Energy Corp. to develop standardized microgrid solutions that optimize the financial metrics of distributed energy sources for client companies. The partnership combines Schneider Electric’s expertise in distributed energy resources and advanced power control with Green Energy Corp’s open source tools that enable new control features and improved ROI for customers.
“Working with Green Energy Corp. delivers a complete solution to the microgrid market, enabling Schneider Electric to provide thousands of its existing and new energy customers with options not previously available,” says James Potach, senior vice president of energy and sustainability service for Schneider Electric.
GridBridge has gained traction with RTCC member Duke Energy, with whom they are piloting their products. It is also working with Durham-based Cree on a U.S. Department of Energy-funded project to connect and integrate battery energy storage in the electrical grid, with the U.S. Department of Defense on a battery converter for its next-generation vehicles and with NASA on a converter to help provide backup power for space installations.
Technologies like these represent the third wave of innovation-based job growth in this region that began two generations ago with IT and continued during the 1980s and 1990s with biotech. The RTCC hopes to play a key role in nurturing these promising enterprises and the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem so that in the coming decades the region will be remembered for pioneering the “Era of Cleantech” thanks in large measure to entrepreneurial companies like these.