The Rutgers EcoComplex located in Bordentown, New Jersey is taking a bold step forward, empowered by a federal grant being used to inaugurate an accelerator program called EcoIgnite for clean energy and clean tech startups. EcoComplex Director Serpil Guran sees the accelerator program as a way to bolster clean tech and clean energy in New Jersey by supporting the clean energy entrepreneurs in these sectors.
Originally founded in 2001 as an environmental and agricultural extension, the EcoComplex is now a business incubator for clean tech and clean energy startups. Guran joined in 2011 bringing her career experience in clean energy that has involved government, research, academia and entrepreneurship.
“I have a passion for clean technologies, especially clean energy. Once I joined the EcoComplex I began to promote it as a clean energy innovation center,” Guran said. “I am combining my experience in government and policy development with science and adding this to clean tech and clean energy business development.”
Launching the EcoIgnite accelerator is Guran’s latest clean tech passion. Over the next few weeks she and her team will be accepting applications from clean tech entrepreneurs for the twelve week program. She describes the program as “a broad yet an immersive business training experience”. The program will begin in September and run through January. During that period training seminars will be given, guest speakers scheduled, and mentoring provided—all intended to give the entrepreneurs the necessary skills to commercialize their technologies.
“In addition to drawing in entrepreneurs from around the state and the region, the accelerator is an opportunity for our eleven incubator ventures to reach out for resources such as recruiting technical help, identifying advisors and mentors, and exploring funding,” Guran explained.
The concentrated training will cover areas such as writing grants, learning to pitch for funding, and other critical business skills. The program climaxes with a Demo Day in the spring during which participating entrepreneurs will pitch their ventures to win a range of awards such as free professional services and office and lab space. Highly accomplished clean tech entrepreneurs and investors will serve as judges.
“We have big goals and hopes for this program. I believe the entrepreneurs will achieve discernible improvements in their business models as a result of their participation,” said Guran. Significant positive outcomes may include the receipt of SBIR grants or finding corporate partners having an interest in their technologies.
She sees the grant as an opportunity to energize the New Jersey entrepreneurial tech ecosystem, calling on investors and mentors in these sectors to become involved in the incubator and accelerator, contributing to the success of both.
“Established companies should also support the initiative,” Guran stated. “They can mentor and contribute some prize money to those in the programs, but most importantly they can tell us what we need to do to establish synergy between the startups and the established large companies in New Jersey.”
Guran is excited about the receipt of the three year grant and what its’ implementation will bring.
“Accelerator programs move startups forward in the commercialization of their technology which in the long run benefits New Jersey because startups and early stage companies are the job creators,” said Guran. “This is a fairly modest grant, but it potentially can have a dramatic impact on just a couple of companies in making them sustainable and contributors to employment in New Jersey.”
In addition to the accelerator program, Guran will be conducting outreach to high school students who are seeking industries with long term career prospects, as well as those who are currently in career transition and seeking to re-skill.
A recent report by the Solar Foundation in its industry analysis supports Guran’s focus on clean technologies, specifically clean energy and their importance to job creation. The Solar Jobs Census 2016 found that employment increased by a historic 25 percent nationwide from 201 5 to 2016, for a total of 260,077 solar workers. This growth occurred across all regions of the country — the number of solar jobs increased in 44 of the 50 states from 2015 to 2016. In 21 of the 50 states, solar jobs grew by 50 percent or more. New Jersey ranked ninth of the 50 states, as all states were dwarfed by the over 100,000 jobs created in California alone.
Director Guran looks forward to coalescing all the participants upon launch of the accelerator program in September.