Colorado — The Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2), a $50 million collaboration between the Wells Fargo Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), announced the four newest winners of its Channel Partner Awards.
Channel Partner Awards are presented twice annually to members of IN2’s network of cleantech accelerator and incubator programs across the United States to address gaps in the cleantech ecosystem and eliminate the barriers startups face on the road to commercialization.
For the current awards round, $350,000 in total funding, IN2 called for proposals that would provide entrepreneurial opportunities for historically underrepresented individuals in the cleantech industry.
Cleantech consistently ranks as one of the fastest-growing employment categories in the United States, but its workforce has historically lacked diversity.
According to a 2019 report from the Solar Foundation, the nation’s solar workforce at the time was 73% white, 17% Hispanic or Latino, 9% Asian and 8% Black.
Minority entrepreneurship in cleantech is even lower, as only 10% of minority-owned businesses are in the Professional, Scientific and Technology sectors. A recent IN2 whitepaper assessing the current cleantech landscape found that 78% of the surveyed cleantech startups maintain a predominantly white workforce, and 93% have a majority of male employees, further emphasizing the need for initiatives focused on diversifying the industry.
Following a call for submissions, nearly 50% of the IN2 Channel Partners applied for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion-focused awards. Winners were selected by a roundtable of IN2, NREL and Wells Fargo representatives on a competitive basis by evaluating their potential to support the trajectory of Black, African American, Latino, Asian American, American Indian, Alaska Native and women entrepreneurs in clean technology sectors.
Centrepolis Accelerator (Southfield, MI) — The Centrepolis Accelerator’s Evergreen Fund invests $15,000 in select entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds through a flexible non-equity loan. The award funds will allow Centrepolis Accelerator to invest in and provide free and discounted research and development services for entrepreneurs located in underinvested neighbourhoods of Detroit, Hamtramck, Pontiac, Southfield, Jackson, and Flint, and expand its geographic reach.
AgLaunch (Memphis, TN) — AgLaunch will use the funds to develop an accelerator program focused specifically on underrepresented and under-resourced founders and farmers. AgLaunch will leverage its relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Tennessee State University, to increase the diversity of founders in the AgLaunch pipeline. Additionally, the funds will be used to continue 48-Hour Launch, a program that encourages underrepresented high school students to develop technology and entrepreneurship skills focused on solving problems in food and agriculture.
Elemental Excelerator (HI and CA) — The funds will be put towards Elemental Excelerator’s Equity IN-novation Initiative, a $4 million program that seeks to support Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)-led cleantech startups. The initiative includes culturally specific executive coaching, introductions to Elemental Excelerator’s network of investors and industry leaders, business mentorship and communications support for BIPOC founders. Elemental’s Equity and Access Field Guide aims to become a unique-in-the-industry resource for scoping, understanding, designing, and advocating for equity in the cleantech sector and the startup community writ large.
Innovation Corridor (Denver, CO) — The Innovation Corridor will use the funds to establish an accelerator program to support underrepresented communities, promote a more equitable distribution of capital resources and provide access to the larger cleantech community. The program will be designed to help substantially increase BIPOC cleantech business ownership and incentivize wealth creation in diverse communities. It also aims to connect underrepresented cleantech entrepreneurs with established stakeholders, resources and capital.
“Diverse entrepreneur and business-owner participation in the cleantech ecosystem is essential to achieving our vision of an inclusive and sustainable economic recovery,” said Jenny Flores, Head of Small Business Growth Philanthropy at Wells Fargo. “It is our hope that advancing inclusion within the cleantech ecosystem will help drive greater equity in the distribution of green jobs, more appropriately address issues of Environmental Justice, and ensure that diverse communities are included and considered in the many trillions of dollars of near-future investment that will be required to avert the most serious impacts of climate change. We look forward to tracking the progress and impact of these four important programs.”
“The IN2 Channel Partner Awards program aims to strengthen sustainable technology initiatives and address common barriers for startups and has long prioritized diversity as a part of its selection process,” said Trish Cozart, IN2 Program Manager, NREL. “Research indicates that the pandemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on minority-owned businesses in all sectors. These latest awards will focus on addressing the lack of minority representation in the cleantech industry at a time when startups and entrepreneurs are experiencing heightened challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The nationwide network of IN2 Channel Partners includes 63 cleantech and agtech business incubators, accelerators, universities and industry experts. Since the inception of the awards program in 2016, $5 million in competitive and non-competitive Channel Partner Awards have supported 48 Strategic Awards, 160 ecosystem awards and engaged all Channel Partners.