How CREED Is Helping Colorado Startups
In a renovated office space a few blocks east of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., a cluster of organizations are helping cleantech entrepreneurs build their own versions of the American dream. This focal point is the Colorado Center for Renewable Energy Economic Development, known as CREED. It’s a joint effort among the State of Colorado, NREL and affiliated stakeholders who are devoted to clean energy economic development. The center comprises the office space plus two main activities, the interaction of cleantech support organizations, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders, and programs specifically tailored to educate and foster cleantech development, the CREED Entrepreneur Series and the CREED Finance Series.
The center and its stakeholders offer many capabilities to support the creation and growth of cleantech companies and entrepreneurs: a pipeline for moving innovations from the state’s clean energy research institutions into the hands of the cleantech industry; hands-on management and coaching; access to capital; access to a skilled workforce; analysis and promotion of the impacts of clean energy policy for the benefit of the cleantech industry; and facilities and test beds for testing and demonstration.
CREED’s Entrepreneur Series offers classroom sessions and workshops on topics ranging from business planning to marketing strategies. The Finance Series includes events that present a comprehensive picture of the investment landscape, including investment pitches, connection with investors, networking opportunities and regularly scheduled investor presentations and speaking engagements.
Colorado is a leader in renewable energy and energy efficiency. According to the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association (CCIA), there are more than 300 cleantech companies in the state, which is among the top three states in cleantech venture capital investment. In addition, NREL is the nation’s largest national laboratory devoted to renewable energy research and development. Several major universities are also leaders in the same field, including the University of Colorado, Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Mines.
Unlike the entrance to a national laboratory, there are no ID badges required to cross the threshold of the CREED office facilities. Eliminating barriers is part of the goal. On the other hand, CREED’s proximity to the NREL campus makes it relatively easy for the stakeholders to meet with the lab’s scientists and engineers for technical advice. The center includes conference rooms for meeting with other industry professionals, investors, analysts, and policy makers, which in turn provide opportunities for business coaching, access to capital, access to a skilled workforce, technical facilities, and test beds. Meetings and collaboration sessions are also held on the NREL campus.
“CREED’s resources at NREL are a magnet for the best and brightest clean tech entrepreneurs in Colorado,” says Stephen Miller, president and CEO of CleanLaunch, one of the affiliated organizations. “The draw for entrepreneurs is clearly the diversity of stakeholders: CCIA, the Collaboratory, the universities, and of course, the lab itself, among others. They all make up an unprecedented collection of intellectual, technical and business expertise. Startups can get assistance with testing and validation, corporate formation and patent protection, accounting and finance, capital formation and fundraising, marketing and go-to-market strategy, management and leadership recruitment and so much more. It’s really a one-stop-shop for the early stage clean tech company.”
Christine Shapard, executive director of CCIA agrees. "Everything that a robust startup ecosystem needs is here at CREED," she says. Bill Farris, NREL's associate laboratory director for innovation partnering and outreach, was one of the movers and shakers behind the creation of CREED. In 2008, the Alliance for Sustainable Energy responded to the Department of Energy's request for a proposal to manage NREL. The Alliance is a limited liability company that is equally owned and governed by Battelle Memorial Institute and MRIGlobal.) As part of that RFP, the Alliance and the lab were tasked with helping to accelerate economic development and entrepreneurship. Farris and other lab officials thought that NREL could start locally in Colorado's vibrant hub of renewable energy and cleantech business activity. Efforts in Colorado could start a ripple effect across the nation, they thought, with subsequent efforts outside the state benefitting from lessons learned.
In the end, DOE chose the Alliance to manage the lab and approved the idea for CREED. NREL went to work getting the office facilities set up, including the renovation and adding other facility features that would support fledgling cleantech companies. Richard Adams, director of NREL's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, was tapped to direct CREED.
Farris says, "To be clear, the startup companies do all the really hard workcreating viable clean energy companies. NREL and CREED simply surround these companies with like-minded stake holders who all want to see these companies succeed." But in that capacity, the lab can make a big impact. "You can feel the passion of the people who work at NREL. The center gives us an opportunity to harness and direct that passion towards the cleantech industry and economic development. It's something that I think is unique in the DOE system."
Karen Atkison is a writer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Organizations with offices in the CREED facility:
• Colorado Energy Office
• Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT)
• University of Colorado Boulder
• Colorado State University
• Colorado School of Mines
• Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory (CREC)
•Colorado Cleantech Industry Association (CCIA)
• Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology (CAMT)
• Energy Efficiency Business Coalition (EEBC)
• Colorado Clean Energy Cluster (CCEC)
• CleanLaunch (incubator assisting the following start-ups)
American Electric Vehicles (AEV)
Fleet Energy Company
CREED Assists Bioscience Companies
A few bioscience companies are among the many cleantech start-ups that benefit from CREED activities. Here is a sampling.
Carbo Analytics, LLC–Based in Fort Collins, Colorado, the company specializes in measuring the amount of sugar in biomass feedstock. A proprietary method called CARBO provides process monitoring information faster and at a fraction of the cost of conventional methods. Automated, wall-mounted instruments sip process broths, measure a panel of sugars, and report results to a facility's communication system. This helps optimize biofuel production. The company participated in the CREED Investor Access breakfast in May. Dale M. Willard, president and founder, says, "CREED essentially serves as the Debutante Ball organizer, matching young companies and investors. They make introductions, screen participants, and educate participants on what to expect and how to prepare. The CREED Investor Breakfasts in particular have been a super venue for Carbo Analytics to establish relationships with many potential investors and learn their expectations."
Triumph Marketing Group LLC (TMG)–The company is located in Centennial, Colorado, and has developed a process for cleaning wastes in manure storage lagoons. TMG's proprietary enzymatic composition speeds up the harvest of minerals from anaerobic, manure lagoon systems; the minerals may then be used for fertilizer. TMG participated in the CREED Investor Access breakfast in May and the CREED Finance Accelerator last August as a part of the Rocky Mountain Clean Tech Open, a competition for cleantech entrepreneurs. The company has a few demonstration sites up and running. "We are most appreciative for the training, practice, counseling and networking provided us by the CREED professionals," says Ted S. Hoster, TMG president. "CREED has paired us with three investors so far. We have been impressed with their ability to think outside the box, think intuitively, and pass along networking opportunities. The center is a strong resource and a good friend."