case study

New Energy Nexus: CalSEED & CalTestBed Program Design

Building Clean Energy Ecosystems 

The Organization – New Energy Nexus  

The California Clean Energy Fund (now New Energy Nexus) launched in 2004 to accelerate clean energy adoption in California. For 15 years, New Energy Nexus established, funded, and grew the state’s entrepreneurship ecosystem to engage and challenge stakeholders at the intersection of clean energy funds, accelerators, and networks. New Energy Nexus is now an international organization that drives innovation and builds equity into the global clean energy economy.  

The Challenge 

In 2013, New Energy Nexus (Then California Clean Energy Fund) wanted to foster an ecosystem of diverse clean energy entrepreneurs in California and better meet the needs of these entrepreneurs who may lack access to private-sector capital. New Energy Nexus envisioned a framework to accelerate the most promising clean energy innovations across the “Valley of Death,” to full-scale commercialization while building equity into the clean energy economy. New Energy Nexus partnered with Momentum to turn this vision from concept to reality. 

The Solution 

Momentum and New Energy Nexus began by creating a blueprint for an accelerator program, using decades of experience working with clean energy entrepreneurs. For entrepreneurs to scale their innovations they need a pipeline of services that goes from an early stage idea to a full-fledge market-ready product (commercialization), including: 

  1. Access to capital without giving up equity 
  2. Technical assistance and facilities to prototype technologies 
  3. A network of accelerator partners for mentorship 
  4. Access to pilot project partners 
  5. Introductions to investors familiar with the needs of clean energy entrepreneurs 

The Result 

In 2016, Momentum and New Energy Nexus won a $25 million grant from the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) Program to build the California Sustainable Energy Entrepreneur Development (CalSEED) Initiative, awarding $20 million to over 100 startups across five annual cohorts. CalSEED supports diverse entrepreneurs who deliver equitable outcomes from their clean-tech innovations and provide direct benefits to California ratepayers in investor-owned utility (IOU) territories. These startups would be initially awarded a $150,000 grant, or “Concept Award”, to get their ideas off the ground and be eligible to compete for an additional $450,000 “Prototype Award” to further prove their product’s commercial viability. Momentum and CalSEED engaged accelerator partners across California to provide “ecosystem services” to those entrepreneurs and help bring their technologies to market. “[Momentum] helped us effectively reboot New Energy Nexus which is the fact that the first fund had diminished substantially in investments and we were looking for the next lease on life and that became CalSEED,” said Danny Kennedy, New Energy Nexus Chief Energy Officer, “So that was a huge institutional boost… it’s resulted in 100 companies receiving direct injections of capital through the state, from us – as well as all the training and acceleration support and mentoring that we provide.” While the early-stage services were built out as the CalSEED Initiative launched, Momentum and New Energy Nexus saw that CalSEED wouldn’t be enough to launch early-stage companies into full commercialization. Entrepreneurs still lacked streamlined access to testing facilities to de-risking technologies through third-party testing. 

In 2019, Momentum and New Energy Nexus proposed the $11 million California Testbed (CalTestBed) Initiative in partnership with the University of California Office of the President to meet this need. The CalTestBed Initiative would unite more than 30 distributed energy resource testing facilities across the University of California system and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to provide awardees with testing vouchers worth up to $300,000, accomplishing streamlined access to California testing facilities. In 2019, California Energy Commission awarded the $11 million proposal to New Energy Nexus through the EPIC Program, in which $8.8 million is distributed to CalTestBed voucher recipients.

What started with an idea evolved into a state-wide entrepreneurial clean-energy ecosystem in which New Energy Nexus will directly invest millions in hundreds of California clean energy startups. Together, CalSEED and CalTestBed accelerate early-stage ideas to tested technologies ready for pilot and demonstration, equity investment, and full-scale commercialization. 

“Momentum helped us see beyond the single-digit cohorts/accelerators so we could go faster and do more sooner – which is really exciting,” said Kennedy.