A Commercial Catalyst in Silicon Valley Hunts for Urban Sustainability Solutions

A new nonprofit technology accelerator initiated by the City of San Jose – which is supported by corporate partners and sponsors, as well as research grants – will take its first major step next month. The outfit, called Prospect Silicon Valley, aims to accelerate the path to market for technologies that address the problems that urban centers are grappling with, such as traffic congestion, sustainable building, and onsite energy generation.

In early October, Prospect will open its demonstration center in San Jose, where entrepreneurs will develop and display their technologies.

Prospect is focused on working with companies that already have seed funding and a product prototype/concept. The companies get access to several resources, including lab space, technology and financial expertise, funding for development and a collaborative environment. Setting this model apart from other typical incubator models is the inclusion of a live platform in a public infrastructure, such as public buildings and traffic frameworks, where the technology can be tested and modeled.

Lab to Street

Prospect SV, which identifies itself as a “commercialization catalyst,” believes this approach provides a straighter and shorter line to market and true customer positioning. The nonprofit doesn’t take an equity stake in any of its portfolio companies.

“Cleantech entrepreneurs need a place they can actually work, which we provide at below market rate; access to infrastructure; and a way to demonstrate the viability of their solution,” said Doug Davenport, executive director of Prospect Silicon Valley. “With us, they can do this alongside global firms that are looking for solutions, as well as alongside people in the academic community.”

Prospect has received several hundred thousand dollars from its founding sponsors, said Davenport, and has been selected for grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and the State of California. It has also partnered with organizations such as Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the University of California.

The nonprofit has big corporate names behind it. Wells Fargo, Applied Materials, BMW, Denso Siemens, Toyota, Continental and Cisco make up its founding sponsors.  It also has a slew of strategic partners, including Cooley, Transportation Technology Ventures and the Cleantech Open. Sponsors and partners hold spots on Prospect’s advisory boards, provide feedback on the program design and applicants, and hopefully bring in investment for technology development.

Solutions-oriented

Together with the city, as well as its sponsors and partners, Prospect determines what technologies in its target areas — transportation, building and onsite energy — are needed to solve problems now. Carbon intensity was the driver in choosing these focus areas. Prospect has already identified the specific technology solutions on its wish list; chief among them are transport system technologies, such as sensors that improve efficiency and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication or controls.

“We’re always looking at what value the technology has to the city,” said Davenport.

Interested entrepreneurs with technologies that fit within Prospect’s mission can apply any time. There isn’t a systematic structure with graduation dates like other accelerators. Prospect is taking the long view, said Davenport.

Models for success

Prospect isn’t the only nonprofit technology incubator with an eye for cleantech:

Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator: Its mission is to grow Los Angeles’ green economy and support technologies that improve the city’s energy and transportation infrastructure.

North Shore InnoVentures: Located in northern Massachusetts, NSIV offers cleantech and biotech entrepreneurs physical resources and lab space, sponsored professional services, mentorship from successful entrepreneurs and investment advisers.

New York City’s Urban Future Lab: Located in Brooklyn, this incubator, initiated by Mayor Bloomberg, seeks to further diversify New York City’s economy by supporting startups focused on solving the urban challenges of sustainability, energy and resilience.

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