Energy and cleantech is a $6.1 trillion industry. Being successful in this highly-competitive market means mastering a toolset that can be different than traditional corporate management or digital web-tech start-ups. No one knows that better than Jason Blumberg, the founder and CEO of the venture capital firm Energy Foundry. To prepare both students and entrepreneurs, Blumberg teaches the Energy and Cleantech Lab at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which allows student teams to consultant for an early-stage high-potential energy or cleantech company on how to commercialize a new technology.
“The goal is to give the students an opportunity to work with a science-based energy and cleantech technology, and figure out how you commercialize something like this,” says Blumberg, an adjunct assistant professor in entrepreneurship at Booth. “Students build a core toolset so they know how to do it going forward.”
But the class does more than arm students with a needed toolset to be successful. It arms entrepreneurs and businesses with the knowledge they need for success as well, by giving them a fresh data-driven perspective on how to build their business.
“When you have business students, they have the ability to take a technology and apply it to the world, which both helps an entrepreneur drive success in their business and gives the students a foundation for when they launch something on their own,” Blumberg says. “This class helps unlock those opportunities that exist.”
The class is split into two halves. In the first half, the students collect data to help them analyze different commercialization opportunities in order to determine which path will have the best financial benefit in the shortest amount of time. Once they’ve learned all they can about the technology and potential paths forward, the students develop a business plan around the data they collected. This plan becomes the foundational platform for the business going forward.
It is this hands-on experience that attracts students like Eric Xu, a first-year MBA student at Booth.
“In these real-world projects, we were exposed to challenges these companies face every day, says Xu. “We came up with questions that we would never think of as a student or as a big company employee, and we developed new skills to put ourselves in a better position in working with startups.”
So what success have the students had? As just one example, they developed a business plan for what is now NetEnergy, a company that markets a thermoelectric battery that saves building owners 30 percent or more on their energy and cuts carbon emissions in half. NetEnergy went on to become a winner in both the Clean Energy Challenge—a proven launching pad for Midwest clean energy startups—and the New Venture Challenge—a Booth-run business launch competition ranked the top university accelerator program in the country.
Students also created a plan for a software platform for the utility industry that had more than $1 million in revenue in its first year of operation, and a film technology developed by the U.S. Department of Defense that went on to raise $4 million.
Denz, a first-year MBA student currently taking the class, is continuing to work toward creating an impact. She and her team are developing a business plan for Argonne National Laboratory around a more efficient water treatment technology.
“It has definitely been an eye-opening experience,” says Denz. “It has been a bit of an iterative process, but we are continuing to make progress and I have learned more than I ever imagined I would along the way.”
In addition to building a toolset to be able to commercialize a technology, solve complex problems, and provide high-impact advice, the students gain a background in the core principals and technologies that are shaping the energy and cleantech industry—including the structure of the energy markets and overviews of many major and minor technologies.
Students also learn, both in real time and from established experts, about the many challenges entrepreneurs face as they work to commercialize a technology. Such guest lecturers have included the former Head of Corporate Strategy and Chief of Staff at Exelon Ralph Loomis, President and CEO of Invenergy Michael Polsky, and Co-founder and CEO of GreatPoint Energy Andrew Perlman. These entrepreneurs and executives are able to talk about their personal journeys and teach students how to make an idea into a technology and a technology into a profit-making business.
For Blumberg, in addition to arming students and entrepreneurs with new knowledge to commercialize clean technologies, the Lab has a larger purpose: to improve people’s lives and the environment through innovation.
“People in poor countries will spend up to 80 percent of their income on energy and food,” says Blumberg. “If we can deliver energy in a better, more efficient way, then we can improve their standard of living and help the globe by providing a better environment for many generations to come.”
To find out more about the Energy and Cleantech Lab visit the course page here.