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New Lab-Corps Program Marries Science and Business

Year-long program helps move technologies to the market.

Funded by the Dept. of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Lab-Corps is a year-long program aimed at improving the rate of commercialization of technologies created at national labs that are in line with the EERE mission.Argonne National LaboratoryARGONNE, Ill. – The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory is one of five DOE national laboratory sites that have been selected to feed into Lab-Corps, the nation’s newest scientist-to-entrepreneur program.

Funded by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Lab-Corps is a year-long program aimed at improving the rate of commercialization of technologies created at national labs that are in line with the EERE mission.

Two teams from each feeder site will be accepted into the pilot program, in which scientists/engineers will be teamed with entrepreneurs and mentors in order to fast-track energy efficiency or renewable energy technologies from the lab to the marketplace. The scientists/engineers will lead the teams, with the other members bringing their complementary skills and expertise.

The Argonne feeder site will be co-managed by Argonne and the Chicago Innovation Exchange, in partnership with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Modeled closely after the National Science Foundation's I-Corps program, Lab-Corps will strengthen the national labs' impact on the nation's energy landscape. Though the labs regularly present scientific solutions to various energy challenges, scaling up these breakthrough inventions and transferring them to the market requires closer interaction with industry.

"The hurdle for scientists and engineers is often in developing 'soft skills' like marketing, sales and raising capital for their idea," said Cherri Schmidt, Manager of Partnerships and Technology Transfer at Fermilab. "Bringing business people and mentors into the Lab-Corps program enables scientists to work with other bright people who can help mature their technology by working with people who have different knowledge sets."

“The Lab-Corps program paves the way to commercialization of critical clean-energy technologies by connecting researchers to customers as well as a systemized process for evaluating the market potential,” said John Flavin, Executive Director of the Chicago Innovation Exchange. “The CIE will help support the national lab researchers by plugging them into the city of Chicago’s broader ecosystem, with access to incubation and meeting space, connections to mentors,  business talent, corporate partners and capital sources, and applying what we’ve learned from our collaboration with the Polsky Center in the Booth School of Business on the NSF I-Corps program.”

By the end of the pilot program, the hope is that at least two teams will make business deals for their inventions. These advances will provide the data the Lab-Corps program needs to secure another round of funding and expand the program to other labs.

"The Lab-Corps program is a low-risk means of trying your hand at entrepreneurship," said Greg Morin, Director for Strategy and Innovation at Argonne. "You can license technology, do collaborative research, or even go start a company yourself. There is a lot of opportunity here."

The winners of the Argonne site feeder program will be determined at a marketing event called Pitchfest. At Pitchfest, teams will explain the scientific principles behind their concept to an audience of scientists, business people and investors. They will also have to show they are prepared to use the Lab-Corps experience to move their innovation to the next level.

Mentors for the teams will come from Argonne’s network of partners.

“Lab-Corps will bring together teams that highlight the expertise of both the research and commercialization communities,” said Amy Francetic, CEO of the Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust, a nonprofit organization formed to accelerate the pace of clean energy innovations in the Midwest that will be involved in the Argonne feeder program. “These types of partnerships help fortify the bond between researchers and companies that leads to the creation of new jobs.”

As the program unfolds, teams will continue to refine their concepts into solid business models. Along with training provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which will develop and execute the training curriculum, teams will also gather direct feedback on their technologies by having face-to-face meetings with potential customers.

Five national laboratories will serve as the feeder sites to the Lab-Corps program: Argonne, Idaho National LaboratoryLawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryLawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

For more information on the Argonne feeder site, visit the Argonne Lab-Corps webpage.