I often hear that energy researchers have trouble finding funding and support for research and their projects. This is one of many examples of real world opportunities out there.
Cyclotron Road, a cross between a fellowship program and startup incubator at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, established to help turn early science into viable companies.
The program, funded by the Department of Energy, recently announced 10 new members They include Marigold Power cofounder David Bierman, who did pioneering work on solar thermophotovoltaics at MIT (see “Hot Solar Cells”); Microbyre founder Sarah Richardson, previously a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley Lab, who is focused on engineering bacteria to more efficiently produce biofuels and other products; and Astrileux founder Supriya Jaiswal, a physicist with multiple degrees from the University of Oxford and the University of Virginia, who is developing next-generation semiconductors.
Cyclotron Road was established three years ago to provide a path between academia and industry, helping scientists working on difficult technical problems to survive the “valley of death” that claims many nascent ideas in the field. They provide researchers with a stipend for two years, as well as access to Berkeley Lab equipment and ongoing mentoring.
The six projects from the first year collectively raised more than $18 million in additional research funding or private investments. Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee have recently launched similar programs.
Most observers argue that achieving a sustainable energy system will require advances in biofuels, storage, renewable efficiency, and grid technologies. Yet the federal budget dedicated to research has declined for decades, as have corporate investments in research. Likewise, the venture capital industry, which demands reliable returns on five-year cycles, has proved a poor fit for clean-energy startups, which often require huge up-front investments and involve considerable technical challenges.
Cyclotron Road founder Ilan Gur, whose own battery startup was backed by Khosla Ventures and acquired by Bosch, said the program offers promising energy researchers the additional time they need to develop their technology before looking for funding—and dealing with all the constraints that come with it.
A HOME FOR HARD SCIENCE INNOVATORS
Developing hard tech isn’t easy. New technologies rooted in the physical and biological sciences will be fundamental to addressing the 21st Century’s biggest challenges in energy, water, food, and health. Yet, there are critical gaps in today’s research ecosystem that prevent scientists and engineers from maturing new concepts to the point of commercial viability.
No man’s land between idea and application
Academic research institutions are optimized for scientific discovery, but provide neither the training nor incentives to mature those discoveries into commercially viable technologies. Private industry has both the motivation and capability to guide science toward application, but cannot justify investment in research that remains too immature to reasonably gauge its potential for commercial returns. The result is a no man’s land between idea and application that keeps some of the most transformative discoveries from reaching the market and benefiting society. Faced with this chasm, even the best science innovators struggle to find the resources needed to mature their research toward application. Many are even forced to abandon their ideas entirely.
At Cyclotron Road, the mission is to empower hard science innovators to advance their ideas from concept to viable first product, positioning them for broad societal impact in the long term. Our goal is simple: allow innovators to mature their ideas to the point where the most suitable commercial partners can take over. In strengthening this alignment, we enable the private sector to support science innovation more efficiently and successfully, driving better outcomes and greater impact on society.