Startup America Gives Cleantech Entrepreneurs a Leg Up

U.S. Small Business Administrator Karen Mills on Wednesday revealed details of a pilot program through which it is working with four cleantech business accelerators across the country to provide mentoring to 100 entrepreneurs in the cleantech arena. The pilot is the inaugural program of the Entrepreneurial Mentor Corps (EMC), a component of Startup America, a White House initiative that was announced two weeks ago to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation.

Remember President Obama’s rally call for the U.S. to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build” as a strategy to pull ourselves up from the bootstraps and get the recovery underway? This is an early step toward that goal, noted Mills during a conference call to announce the pilot program.

This initial component of the EMC pilot will provide mentoring for 100 small, clean energy companies. These firms were culled from a group of 400 companies that the Department of Energy has already supported through its loan program (a program which Obama’s recently-announced DOE budget would bolster further). And the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program is also helping to fund the pilot project. (At press time, the Small Business Administration had not responded to my request for the amount of funding going into the program.)

CleanTECH San Diego, the Clean Energy Trust in Chicago, the CleanTech Open in the SF Bay Area and the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization are the four business accelerators that will take these 100 cleantech startups under their wings. Each entrepreneur will be paired with two mentors that the business accelerators identify. The mentors will give advice on everything from finding funding sources to hiring new staff to how to commercialize new technologies and grow successful businesses.

“We are trying to give these companies all the tools they need,” said Mills. “They need a different kind of mentoring, it needs to be very high-value, to help them find their way to high growth. We want to find the right models and best practices and then make sure the startups engage all the right partners to ensure that the federal dollars get the most bang for the buck.”

The names of companies chosen for the pilot were not announced. But if this pilot proves successful, the SBA plans to expand it to eventually provide mentoring services to 1000 companies in a range of sectors.

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to