Incubators: Put heads together for clean thinking

After plugging a device called the modlet into electrical outlets, people in homes and offices can cut wasted energy by managing appliances not in use remotely via the web. ThinkEco, which developed the modlet, did so from within the walls of the NYC Acre, one of a growing number of incubators dedicated to the development of clean tech businesses.

For the start-ups in the portfolio of NYC Acre (the New York City Accelerator for a Clean and Renewable Economy) a strong focus is the development of technologies that address energy use in the urban environment. “We want to help drive innovation at scale and New York with its 1m buildings is a huge market,” says Micah Kotch, operations director.

However, while clean tech incubators aim to use market forces to drive a cleaner economy, developing solutions that address issues such as carbon emissions, water consumption and waste is different from fostering information technology or biotech innovations in that it requires input from a wide range of sectors and organisations.

“People have understood the technology involved in building cleaner solutions is a lot more complicated because it relies on combinations of hardware, product design and product development,” says Colm Reilly, government and public sector expert at PA Consulting.

As a result, when it comes to launching clean tech incubators, governments, academia and the private sector are increasingly forming partnerships.

“The incubation of new ideas needs to be supported by a diversity of structures,” says Daniel Esty, commissioner of the department of energy and environmental protection for the state of Connecticut, which has launched a venture capital fund called Connecticut Innovations.

NYC Acre is a good example of this cross-sector approach. The incubator is run by NYU-Poly, funded primarily by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and designed not only to support start-ups but also to help commercialise university research.

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