Solar Startups are Shining Bright

Contributed by: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Startups are at the forefront of innovation in the solar industry and there’s big growth opportunity in this sector for entrepreneurs dedicated to working with American manufacturers.

First: Overcoming Challenges 

Like many other industries, two of the biggest barriers to solar startups are the initial cost and access to resources. Research and development, testing, prototyping, and marketing all take an enormous amount of resources, especially when dealing with something like solar panels. So, where do startups get the funding for their innovations?

Greentown Labs and other partners around the country are working to give U.S.-based solar startups a boost through the American-Made Solar Prize. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, this $3 million prize competition is designed to revitalize U.S. solar manufacturing through a series of three contests—Ready!, Set!, and Go!—in which participants submit ideas and then work with national laboratories, energy incubators, industry partners, and other resources (like Greentown Labs!) to build a proof of concept. At each stage of competition, competitors are narrowed down and win cash prizes that they can use to further their innovation in the next round, with two winners selected at the end of the challenge.

Now: A New Dawn of Innovators

In February, 20 Solar Prize semi-finalists were announced as winners from the Ready! Contest, each winning $50,000 in cash prizes. Semi-finalists’ innovations cover a wide spectrum of concepts, including penetration-free panel roof mounts, plug-and-play inverter connections, and innovative solar cell designs.

One of the requirements of continuing to compete in the Set! Contest was that teams had to register as an LLC. While some of these teams were already registered as a small business, many were still in the initial phases of developing their business, working on early details like choosing a company name and establishing partnerships.

Now, a few months into the Set! Contest, all 20 teams are registered as small businesses and are working diligently on product advancements with the help of facilities and business coaches across the country, many of which are small businesses themselves.

Next: What’s on the Horizon?

These teams will put their ideas to the test as they compete in the Solar Prize Set! Demo Day at Greentown Labs on June 6, 2019. Each team will showcase the progress they’ve made with assistance from national labs and other facilities. They will pitch their work to a panel of industry experts and an audience that will include investors and venture capitalists on the hunt for the next big idea in this growing market.

While the stakes are high, the reward is higher; five to ten finalists will win up to $200,000 in cash prizes, plus up to $75,000 in vouchers for technical assistance to continue advancing their products. Even if teams aren’t awarded prize money from Set! Demo Day, they can still work with the network of industry resources to further innovations and pitch refined ideas at the final Go! Demo Day competition in September 2019 for a shot at up to another $500,000 in cash prizes.

Opportunities like the Solar Prize can help launch small businesses and entrepreneurs into successful industry players. Providing crucial funding and resources to solar startups will undoubtedly allow many of them to bring their innovations to the residential and commercial markets.

Join us at Greentown Labs to see how solar startups are shaping the future of renewable energy. Register to attend the Solar Prize Set! Demo Day event on June 6.