By Wayne Snyder,
Director, Technology Development
While entrepreneurship carries a significant risk, it can also provide many rewards. Entrepreneurship can introduce novel products or services to the market that change the way we live, work and play. It can catalyze job creation and spur economic growth. And it can foster community development by investing in local businesses. However, entrepreneurship has its challenges. For example, early stage commercialization teams from universities and small businesses must exercise resourcefulness to optimize their finite list of assets and funding. If they don’t, these teams often face crushing barriers that halt their great idea or technology before it can even be deployed.
To help entrepreneurs overcome these barriers, federal agencies — such as the U.S. Department of Energy — regularly announce funding opportunities; however, many do not pursue these options. This is often due to cost share, a required contribution toward a project’s total value, such as equipment, digital hardware and software, labor, materials and services. Federal funding can require between 20% and 50% for cost share. And for many entrepreneurs with limited assets, this is an insurmountable challenge.
In 2015, NextEnergy partnered with the State of Michigan to develop and execute the Michigan Accelerating Technologies in Energy grant program to address these financial challenges. With additional funding support from the Michigan Strategic Fund, the MATch program supported Michigan companies in commercializing competitive-edge technologies, building successful businesses with the potential for high-growth job retention and promoting a culture of entrepreneurship. This was an effort to drive commercialization outcomes, spur federal research and development investments in Michigan, help startup and university proposals remain competitive and assist with prohibitive cost-share requirements.
NextEnergy managed the grant funding for the program, contracting with federally awarded university teams and small businesses to outline the structure of grant work to be reimbursed. As fiduciary of the grant, NextEnergy disbursed payments for completed milestones and commercialization activities aligned with MATch goals and objectives. It also educated the advanced energy and transportation ecosystem in Michigan about federal funding opportunities, supported high-potential clients with pre-award technical and business merit review of proposals, introduced applicants to potential project partners and increased visibility and exposure between federal departments and state organizations.
MATch provided federal funding consulting and advisory support to 216 unique companies and university research teams, awarding more than $960,000 in grants. This resulted in more than $32.8 million in federal investment and $31.5 million in nonfederal investment.
Though the MATch program has ended, the State of Michigan continues to support entrepreneurs with other programs and services. For example, this interactive map of Michigan SmartZone hubs shows what resources are available to assist entrepreneurs in their endeavors. NextEnergy is across the street from one such SmartZone — TechTown — which is nestled in Detroit and serves as an incubator and accelerator for technology and business advancement. Additionally, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s entrepreneurial support webpage offers information about services, funding and news to give your team a competitive edge. For further assistance with these resources, please email Nadia Abunasser, the MEDC’s federal and development projects director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.