City council approves $530,000 for clean energy incubator

Amanda Voeller

Clean energy innovation in Austin will continue with $530,000 in approved funds by Austin City Council for research at the University’s Clean Energy Incubator, an organization which helps new clean energy companies expand.

The agreement was originally scheduled to come up for a renewal vote on Oct. 1, but it was not on the city council docket until Thursday, Mitchell Jacobson, co-director of Austin Technology Incubator, said. The funding is disbursed sporadically throughout the year, so there was not a delay in receiving funds, Jacobson said.

The funds, which are split into $265,000 per year for two years, will enable the innovation incubator to continue partnering with early-stage clean energy companies to help them raise money and find employees, Jacobson said.

The city is not the organization’s only source of funding. According to Michael Webber, Clean Energy Incubator co-director and associate mechanical engineering professor, the State Energy Conservation Office and the fees paid by the companies who utilize the incubator also help the Clean Energy Incubator run.

The $530,000 is divided into $100,000 for infrastructure and staff salaries, $80,000 funds the South By Southwest Eco Startup Showcase events, $60,000 supports two clean energy companies in the incubator and $25,000 funds research directed by Austin Energy, said Richard Morgan, Green Building and Sustainability manager at Austin Energy.

“[The incubator has] a mission to help UT companies and entrepreneurs, but it’s not just for UT,” Webber said. “It’s also for companies in Austin and entrepreneurs in Austin. We help recruit companies to Austin, and that’s why Austin Energy and the city of Austin supports us.”

Austin Energy has been supporting the incubator since 2006. Webber said the council’s repeated investments in the organization demonstrate the council’s focus on clean energy

“The city’s not overflowing with money, so if they invest money this way, that’s a sign they [support this] investment for the city of Austin,” Webber said.

Morgan said the goal of the incubator is not conducting research but rather promoting the growth of new energy companies.

“By incubating companies, we’re looking for early stage companies that have a technology to commercialize — that might be an efficient light bulb or a better way to produce energy or a cleaner way to treat water or something like that,” Webber said.

Omni Water Solutions, a water treatment company that aims to make oil and gas production cleaner, is one of the companies the incubator has worked with, Webber said. Another company is Ideal Power Converters, which works on electronic power converters for solar panels and electric car charging.

“This research helps Austin Energy and the city of Austin in identifying clean energy technologies that could be of substantial assistance to our municipally-owned utility company in the future to save energy or to use it more efficiently,” Jacobson said.

Webber said the incubator helps the University achieve success in its commercialization efforts.

“UT has major priorities for teaching and research, but it also has a priority for commercialization, and we’re part of helping UT fulfill its mission,” Webber said. “We also help those students who become entrepreneurs find pathways in life that are fulfilling and important and successful, so we like being part of that.”

The incubator usually works with companies, which include both UT students as well as alumni and other residents of Austin, for a time period between nine and 24 months,
Webber said.

“It’s exciting to see companies graduate from the incubator and raise millions of dollars in funding that they use to hire people, ramp up and sell products around the world,” Webber said. “We like being part of the economic development story in Austin. We like being part of the student growth story of UT.”