The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Technology Transitions (OTT) announced VentureWell as a grand prize winner of the American-Made Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Prize Round 2 (Prove It! phase). Selected after a year-long competition, VentureWell was awarded $500,000 for the demonstrated success of developing a new regional program through the Ascend Energy & Mobility Accelerator. This six-week program, offered in partnership with Detroit-based entrepreneurship hub TechTown Detroit, supported Michigan hard-tech startups addressing energy and mobility challenges, while engaging a diverse community through regional partnerships. The program is designed to help startups bridge the gap between customer discovery and investment readiness by focusing high-touch support for entrepreneurs working on energy and mobility challenges.
Of the inaugural cohort of 10 startups that were selected to participate in the Ascend Energy & Mobility Accelerator, four developed solutions to enable the adoption of zero-emission vehicles, three addressed challenges in energy storage and charging, and three provided safety and/or energy efficiency in transportation.
Critical to the success of the program was partnership with TechTown Detroit, including leaders and staff— Ned Staelber, President and CEO; Dawn Batts, Director of Growth Capital; Danielle Manley, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships; and Raina Baker, Outreach and Engagement Manager. TechTown leads the Mobility Accelerator Innovation Network (MAIN), which was developed with support from the $52.2 million Build Back Better Regional Challenge award from the Economic Development Administration.
“Genuine regional partnership is critical to success, and we intend to build on this for the continuation of the program,” said Director of National Venture Programs Tricia Compas-Markman. “Our strategic goals going forward are to increase the number of climate ventures, the share of innovators from underrepresented groups, and the capacity of regional institutions and their entrepreneurial ecosystems. Ascend is a new program that achieves these goals while actively learning from the community.”
VentureWell engaged eight mentors with industry expertise to support entrepreneurs in the development of a tangible roadmap for growth, scalability, and funding. Companies worked with Erika Block, an investor, advisor, and entrepreneur at Sticky Lab and lecturer at the University of Michigan College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship, who served as lead instructor for the program. Teams also received support from mentors-in-residence including Kevin Blaser, venture capitalist and energy systems expert; Marcia Dawood, angel investor, Angel Capital Association and Mindshift Capital; Ellington Ellis, angel investor and founder, Ellington Energy; Jade Garrett, founder, Positive Deviancy, and hard tech and energy expert; Anne Maghas, angel investor and entrepreneur, Dash Group; Domineca Neal, angel investor, Commune Angels; and DeWayne Williams, angel investor, Commune Angels, and connectivity expert in mobility.
Thank you to our Regional Advisory Committee, who were instrumental in providing advice and support throughout the design and development of this program. They include: Tu Le, managing director, Sino Auto Insights; Alisyn Malek, University of Michigan Tech Transfer Office, and founder, Middle Third; Clay Phillips, mobility technology lead, Michigan Small Business Development Center; and Sherelle Streeter, senior mobility strategist, Office of Mobility Strategy, City of Detroit.
Prove It! was the third and final phase of the American-Made EPIC Prize program that distributed $4 million in cash prizes to strengthen the future of clean energy in the U.S. EPIC catalyzes regional incubators in order to support the mentorship, technology validation, and business development of entrepreneurs and startups.
About the EPIC Prize
The EPIC Prize is administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and is part of the Department of Energy OTT broader EPIC program that provides funds and support to place-based incubators to encourage the robust growth of regional energy innovation ecosystems across the United States. NREL is the Prize Administrator for this prize. In this role, NREL will disburse prize funds upon receipt from the Department of Energy OTT.
About the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Technology Transitions
OTT is one of the largest supporters of technology commercialization in the federal government. Founded in 2015, OTT bolsters the technology industry’s market skills and enables clean energy technologies to progress through research, development, demonstration, and to deployment into the private sector to meet our nation’s climate goals. Visit energy.gov/ott to learn more and subscribe to receive the latest opportunities and accomplishments via email. Follow OTT on Twitter/X and LinkedIn.