New York’s ACRE Incubator Is Churning Out Cleantech Startups, and Helping Build a New Engine for the City’s Economy

Micah Kotch, operations director of New York City’s only cleantech incubator, has developed a bit of a complex. The incubator, called NYC ACRE (Accelerator for a Clean & Renewable Economy), is housed within New York University’s better-known technology incubator on Varick Street. Since ACRE started up in July 2009, Kotch has watched a procession of media — from the Wall Street Journal to MSNBC — come to spotlight the tech side of the incubator, while virtually ignoring the ten or so companies on the cleantech side. Why? Because mobile apps and other emerging technologies are sexy, whereas “cleantech is viewed more as infrastructure,” Kotch says.

Maybe so, but cleantech is one part of New York’s infrastructure that the city has pegged as vital for its economic growth. In 2007, the New York City Investment Fund—a private group that promotes the diversification of New York’s economy—released a report urging local governments to support cleantech. That encouraged NYU’s Polytechnic University to apply for a grant from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).


Some cleantech entrepreneurs appreciate ACRE’s flexibility. ThinkEco joined the incubator in late 2009 as a “virtual tenant.” The company was developing a “modlet”—a wireless device that people could plug into any outlet and then use to monitor and control their electricity consumption. ThinkEco couldn’t make the device at ACRE, because the incubator is a sprawling, open space, where entrepreneurs sit back-to-back in cubicles. “The layout wasn’t conducive to us soldering and hammering all day,” says Mei Shibata, chief business officer at ThinkEco.

So ThinkEco stayed headquartered offsite, and its founders used the ACRE’s meeting rooms, consulted its advisors, and attended its networking events. Shibata says the incubator also brought her company closer to NYSERDA, which has since awarded ThinkEco three grants totaling more than $1 million. The company is now selling its modlet to companies and is working on a strategy for marketing it directly to consumers.

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