5 webinar takeaways for cleantech startups in Minnesota and beyond

Good afternoon, readers. Clean Energy Trust recently launched the first of its webinars featuring discussions about cleantech innovation in the Midwest. I’ll bring you key themes that emerged during the first Virtual Road to Co_Invest Cleantech webinar, which focused on Minnesota but has a lot of advice and ideas applicable to all regional cleantech businesses. But first, today’s tech headlines…

Today’s headlines:

✂️ RIBBON CUTTING: Indianapolis city leaders attended a socially distanced ribbon cutting for the first new building at the 16 Tech innovation hub. The $500 million, 50-acre multi-use development will have office, retail, and residential space intended to attract scientists, researchers, advanced manufacturers, and tech entrepreneurs.

🏃 ACCELERATOR: Applications are open for the fall cohort of the University of Iowa’s Venture Schoolreports KCHA news. The training program for startup entrepreneurs from across Iowa will be a hybrid online/in-person experience this year.

☢️ NEW PRODUCT: Cloud-based software developer Indeavor of Madison, Wisconsin, released new scheduling software to help nuclear power plant operators comply with safety regulations and prevent employee fatigue.

🌞 SOLAR: Eau Claire, Wisconsin, school officials approved a gift of solar panels to be installed on two high schools, reports WEAU. The installation will become part of the schools’ STEM education programs and will expose students to solar and environmental career opportunities.

***SPONSORED LINK: The Rise Up! podcast brings real-time, relevant energy and policy information to Midwest stakeholders through an engaging and entertaining medium. Episode 4: “Credit Where Credit is Due” with special guest Andy Johnson is out now! #RiseUpMidwest***

🌡️ CLIMATE: The pandemic has closed research facilities and caused disruptions that are slowing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency progress on innovative climate actions, including in the Great Lakes region, reports McClatchy.

🚗 TRANSPORTATION: Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automotive parts supplier BorgWarner says it’s building a compact, efficient powertrain for Ford’s new all-electric Mustang Mach-E SUV.

A catalyst material used to covert ethanol into butene-rich mixed olefins, which can then be readily processed into aviation fuels. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy.

💰 FUNDING: A project from the Illinois Institute of Technology to increase the beneficial use of coal plant fly ash in concrete is one of two to receive a collective $2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. Fly ash currently has limitations for concrete applications because of stringent performance requirements.

💵 INVESTMENT: TitletownTech in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is investing in Fork Farms, an Appleton, Wisconsin-based startup that makes hydroponic farming systems, reports the Milwaukee Business Journal. The indoor vertical farms are designed to eliminate produce transportation, use 97% less water than traditional farming, and consume 40% less energy than competitors’ hydroponic systems.

🦺 SAFETY: Third-party safety and certification company UL, headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois, joined the American Lighting Association and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association in releasing a paper about proper use and safety concerns for ultraviolet light devices, as interest in these products has surged with their reported ability to kill the novel coronavirus.

Now, back to the Clean Energy Trust’s webinar highlighting cleantech innovation in Minnesota. The webinar included speakers from large and small business across Minnesota that aim to further sustainability and cleantech development. Here are some key themes that emerged from the thought leaders:

  1. R&D models are different than in the past. Private companies used to hire in-house teams for their own research and development. But now businesses need to look externally to remain cost effective and competitive. R&D now often involves corporations partnering with startups and academic institutions on emerging technologies. “We have good ideas, but there are a lot of good ideas around the world,” said Laura Nereng, new business development lead at 3M.
  2. The pandemic is driving new innovation, not just stifling funding. Although much tech talk during the pandemic has centered on businesses hurting for funding, entrepreneurs are devising innovations to address new health and sustainability concerns. For example, Ecolab is advancing recycled content in personal protective equipment to reduce the environmental impact as PPE demand booms. And building controls developer 75F (previously featured in Centered) is working on air quality management technology to allow employees to safely return to their workplaces.
  3. Companies continue pursuing sustainability commitments during the pandemic, and they’re seeking partnerships and innovation to move them forward. “It is absolutely an opportunity here to innovate,” said Emilio Tenuta, senior vice president of corporate sustainability at Ecolab. Companies continue pursuing sustainability measures to make themselves more competitive and respond to increasing customer demand for such considerations. Innovations for plant-based meats and lower carbon animal feed are two examples, noted Steve Montgomery, R&D director for bioindustrials at Cargill.
  4. A lot of work already is happening, but plenty of unsolved climate and sustainability problems exist that industry is thirsting for the cleantech ecosystem to solve. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t feel like solutions are in the works for every problem and should continue pursuing their big ideas. For example, there’s a need to decarbonize all sectors — which increasingly work collaboratively — and not just renewables or transportation, Nereng said. In addition, technological solutions are necessary to eliminate inefficiencies and gaps in the country’s food system and supply chains that the pandemic brought to light, explained Brett Brohl, managing director of Techstars Farm-to-Fork.
  5. Minnesota has unique cleantech startup benefits… but also some drawbacks. The state could stand to rework its income tax credit process for early-stage startups, said Deepinder Singh, 75F CEO. But he also points to unique tech opportunities, such as the Minnesota Cup, and top-notch university resources. Brohl noted the large pool of talent and the diverse array of regional specialities. That allows a variety of cleantech businesses to thrive, rather than pigeon-holing entrepreneurs into one sector, such as transportation or silicon chips. Funding also goes farther in Minnesota than in coastal cities.

More insights are available by watching the full webinar recording online. Registration for the next webinar, which focuses on Missouri and Kansas, also is open online.

Reach out with ideas for other Midwest tech stories do you want to see covered in Centered. Send news tips, press releases, and feedback via email to katie@centered.tech or connect on LinkedIn and Twitter @centereddottech.

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