Yesterday was one of those days where you get to take a step back for a minute and take in the real progress that is being made in the US to address the world's energy problem. The ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit was held in Washington DC and featured 100+ ARPA-E awardees, finalists, and other showcase participants. The amount and quality of the startups and innovators on the showcase floor was astounding - everywhere I turned I bumped into another world-class researcher working on a disruptive approach to solar, wind, energy storage, water purification, carbon capture... and unlike so many university lab visits, the founders/principal investigators had a fair idea of the potential applications and business opportunities they were pursuing. I attribute this to the training and feedback provided by the ARPA-E applications process - and this in and of itself represents enormous value. And then the final kicker: ~25 of the showcased companies were the actual awardees, each of which received an average of $5 million in ARPA-E funding to cross the "valley of death" from the lab to productization. The collective momentum of the showcased companies was awesome.
This is the result of 6-7 months of work of a startup team at ARPA-E under Secretary Chu, led by Dr Arun Majumdar. Arun, David Danielson, Srini Mirmira et al are themselves working at breakneck speed and are innovating as they go. From a standing start in 2009, this team will effectively become the largest cleantech venture investor in the US in the next year, investing $300m annually to move potentially disruptive technologies from the lab. By design, they are taking risks the private market won't take on, and as a result plenty of these projects will fail. The program directors are an impressive group, and as a team they are doing rigorous technical diligence to ensure ARPA-E investment dollars are put to the best use. Impressive stuff.
I was fortunate to attend a dinner hosted by my friends at NEA with Arun and his team plus other DOE executives, including Kristina Johnson (Undersecretary of Energy). Had fun at dinner with Jon Sakoda (NEA), Marcie Black (Bandgap Engineering Founder), Eric Ingersoll (General Compression Founder), and Cathy Zoi (Director of EERE). By the end of dinner Cathy had convinced me HomeStar (fka "Cash for Caulkers") was going to be REALLY big, with a goal of 5m homes audited and retrofitted versus 40k today. At $5-10k work per home, that's (a lot of jobs and) a very big market ($50 billion) from virtually scratch a couple years ago.
The event itself was pulled off in <2 months of planning. With Energy Secretary Steven Chu leading the charge, the ARPA-E team recruited Jeff Immelt, Tom Friedman, Carol Browner, Jim Rogers to headline the speakers on short notice. The event had the feel of a real team effort across the DOE, business leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers and investors. And it's a team of people worth betting on.
Congrats to Arun and team for a great event!