4 more years for SBU clean-energy incubator

Round two: Under the guiding hand of Executive Director David Hamilton, Stony Brook University's Clean Energy Business Incubator Program has earned new NYSERDA funding.

CEBIP is back in business.

More accurately, the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program – a jewel of Stony Brook University’s commercialization ecosystem – will continue business uninterrupted, thanks to renewed funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Although NYSERDA has made no official announcement – and authority spokespeople declined to comment this week – Innovate LI has learned that the state has re-upped its financial support of CEBIP with a fresh $1.5 million grant, to come in plateau-driven tranches through 2021.

The renewal matches NYSERDA’s original stake in the clean-energy business-development effort. In 2011, the state agency ignited the program with a $1.5 million stipend that was also intended to be dispersed over four years but wound up stretching over six, according to CEBIP Executive Director David Hamilton.

Noting that it’s “not about spending the money, but collecting the money from NYSERDA,” Hamilton said the slower pace involved strict performance milestones established by the first state grant – performance plateaus required of CEBIP’s clients before CEBIP could collect and hand out the NYSERDA funds.

Many of the program’s initial clients were in their pre-seed stages, according to the exec, creating a “longer commercialization path” and delaying some of those milestones.

This time around, Hamilton expects to collect and disperse the funds at a more rapid clip. Not only is the CEBIP program more polished, with dozens of incubated startups under its belt, but the program and NYSERDA agreed about halfway through the first grant process to modify some of those milestone requirements, bringing them more in line with the early-stage enterprises Hamilton’s virtual incubator tends to attract.

“The original milestones weren’t really conducive to the paths our guys were taking,” Hamilton told Innovate LI. “So, we modified them to allow these businesses to achieve certain plateaus significantly faster.”

That sped up the collection and disbursement of NYSERDA funding over the last couple of years, he added, and also encouraged the state to work with CEBIP on new, even smoother requirements and guidelines attached to the new four-year grant.

“The current milestones are even more fine-tuned to the paths our guys need to take,” Hamilton said. “We fully expect our guys to hit our milestones faster.”

In fact, with the incubator program’s refined assistance, there’s a good chance CEBIP’s clean-energy innovators could reach those adjusted plateaus – and earn those tranches – in less than four years. Whether NYSERDA would be willing to ante up again before 2021 is unknown, though Hamilton would certainly file that question under “good problems to have.”

Even with the modified milestones, “the day-to-day mission statement for CEBIP remains completely the same,” the exec noted: The rapid commercialization of breakthrough clean-energy technologies.

The incubator-without-walls (as a virtual program, campus residency is not required) currently serves 15 clients and has assisted 32 to date. And while it has refined its own processes, it’s never taken its eyes off that commercialization prize, according to Hamilton, and it never will.

“This (renewal) is a validation of what we’ve done over the last six years,” he said. “We spent a lot of time figuring out how we want to handle this, what kind of companies we want to work with and how we want to apply our resources – maybe even doing things a little differently than how other incubation programs do it.

“I’m thankful that NYSERDA recognizes what we’ve done,” Hamilton added. “Programs like ours are critical to the economic ecosystem on Long Island.

“With this new funding, we can grow and become even more successful over the next four years.”

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