The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $3.6 million to 18 groups and organizations through the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize — a first-of-its-kind competition designed to support entrepreneurship and innovation in communities historically underserved in federal climate and energy technology funding. The selected projects are helping develop the next wave of diverse clean energy business owners, executives and workforce that are creating bottom-up solutions for sustainable development. The Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize supports the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 initiative to put environmental and economic justice at the center of America’s transition to a net-zero economy by 2050.
The prize, launched by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED) with additional funding from the Office of Technology Transitions, is supporting teams of entrepreneurs, community organizers, nonprofits, and academic institutions working to achieve energy justice in the national transition to clean energy.
A recent study found that out of approximately one billion dollars in philanthropic funding provided to a dozen national environmental grantees, just over 1% of the funding was awarded to energy justice-focused organizations. The study also revealed that inadequate access to funding, information about proper procedures during the request for applications process were all barriers that prevented the organizations from being considered for funding opportunities.
Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize encouraged applications from innovators who had never applied for federal funding and at least 80% of submissions were from first-time applicants to DOE funding opportunities.
The Phase One winners are:
- Accelerating the Impact of Diverse Entrepreneurs Washington, D.C.: The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) will support small and emerging renewable energy companies owned or operated by women, Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black, Hispanic, or Native American leaders, with the goal of tripling the number of businesses in the program over the next four years, and increasing diversity in clean energy C-suite leadership.
- Alabama Energy Transformation Initiative, Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama and Energy Alabama will work together to provide education programs to expose, train, and recruit underrepresented students into clean energy and STEM fields through energy assessment trainings and field trips.
- Central Valley Innovation Ecosystem, Fresno, CA: The Water, Energy and Technology Center at California State University, Fresno, will create and manage a region-wide, college-level program that matches students with climate and energy-focused startups and provides technical assistance and advisory services to entrepreneurs and startups in underserved communities.
- Clean Energy Restoration for Rural Alaska Villages, Anchorage, AK: The Tebughna Foundation aims to create opportunities for Alaskan indigenous communities to develop clean and affordable energy resources based on traditional principles of land stewardship, and will create a handbook for equitable clean energy deployment in Alaskan Native Villages.
- Community Engagement for a Clean Energy Economy, Bethesda, MD: One Montgomery Green and Bethesda Green will work with the community to create an equitable and actionable carbon reduction roadmap, run entrepreneurship training programs, and facilitate community collaborations for clean energy transition initiatives.
- Creative Collaborations Build Thriving Communities, New York, NY: Soulful Synergy LLC will expand their workforce training program, which focuses on energy efficiency and building systems, to at least 250 new participants from disadvantaged communities.
- Empowering the Future Energy Workforce, Richland, WA: Washington State University Tri-Cities will develop new academic programs, research collaborations and entrepreneurial activities in clean energy and climate innovation, including a research-based course with industry mentors and incubator integration aimed at engaging, retaining, and empowering Hispanic/LatinX students.
- Energy Profiles build Community Energy Resilience, Utuado, PR: The Cooperativa Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña, in partnership with Fundación Borincana and Pecan Street, will empower rural villages in the interior mountains of Puerto Rico to take control of their clean-energy future by installing rooftop solar and storage systems.
- Feed the Second Line: Get Lit, Stay Lit!, New Orleans, LA: Feed the Second Line will pilot solar-plus-storage microgrid installations and an apprenticeship program to in local restaurants to serve as disaster relief hubs.
- Green Door Initiative, Detroit, MI: As part of their ‘motor city to solar city’ efforts, the Green Door Initiative will expand their climate-smart job training and placement programs, including for returning citizens, and create a model sustainable neighborhood block — creating jobs installing solar panels and improving energy efficiency — to reduce energy insecurity.
- Imani Green Works! Community Justice & Innovation, Chicago, IL: Imani Green Works is a coalition of nine organizations working to create a minority-owned, minority-managed company to provide clean energy workforce development programs for historically disenfranchised residents of Chicago’s Pullman Community and Washington Heights neighborhoods, and conduct community workshops to foster grassroots innovation in climate smart projects.
- Increase Battery Work Force Development, Atlanta, GA: Three minority owned business will partner with Clark Atlanta University, a an HBCU, to create an education program, an internship program and an entrepreneurship course for high school students through graduate students focused on battery design, manufacturing, and testing.
- Native Sun REZ Network, Minneapolis, MN: The Native Sun Community Power Development will create the Reservation Energy Zone (REZ) Network to help tribes seeking to share opportunities around clean energy, including through mentorship, through assistance to local rural schools in applying for the Solar for Schools program and through investment opportunities for clean energy projects.
- New Haven Eco-Entrepreneurship Creative Lab, New Haven, CT: Gather New Haven will recruit young entrepreneurs to participate in the New Haven Eco-Entrepreneurship Creative Lab to develop equitable clean energy solutions, and enable the students to pitch climate-technology projects to increase community engagement and acceptance.
- Path to Tribal Energy Sovereignty, Pine Ridge, SD: Red Cloud Renewable will provide tribal communities with the workforce and entrepreneurship training, technology know-how, and resources to drive solar and other renewable energy projects on tribal lands.
- SEEEDing Knoxville’s Just Energy Ecosystem, Knoxville, TN: The nonprofit Socially Equally Energy Efficient Development (SEEED) aims to design a community-driven just energy ecosystem, encourage distribution of clean energy benefits to the community and develop clean energy jobs training for disadvantaged youth.
- ‘Solar Utilization and Commercialization Coalition for Energy Efficiency Devices, Edinburg, TX: A coalition of professionals, organizations, and academic institutions that support startups and entrepreneurs will work to bolster the solar manufacturing industry in Texas and support startups in the industry to build economic potential in the Rio Grande Valley.
- “Xcelerating” Black Climate Startups in Portland, Portland, OR: This team will launch a climate-tech business accelerator tailored for entrepreneurs from local Black and underserved communities. Their projects will include developing a culturally-informed energy curriculum for use with black-owned startups, an entrepreneur accelerator program with the goal of creating more black-owned businesses, and a program to incentivize investment using a just transition offset strategy.
The winning teams will receive $200,000 in cash and mentoring support. They are also eligible to participate in Phase Two of this Prize, which will conclude in Spring 2023 with presentations to a panel of expert reviewers. Phase Two winners will split a cash prize pool of up to $1.5 million.
Responses to a DOE request for information identified several barriers to achieving diversity in who receives DOE funding, as well as opportunities and benefits from working with researchers and entrepreneurs with a broad range of backgrounds. Responses came from environmental justice and community-based organizations; business incubators and accelerators; technology developers, investors, and funders; state, local, and tribal governments; researchers; and others.
Learn more about the finalists and their projects.