Yesterday the Kauffman Foundation co-hosted the Southwest Energy Summit with both ASU (host location) and the leadership team of ARPA E. We had wonderful participation from industry leaders, experienced energy VC’s and university academics. Rick Shangraw (SVP, Knowledge Enterprise Development, ASU) surprised the audience with his opening (and brutally honest) remarks about where universities have gone wrong in trying to commercialize research. I didn’t want to make a fuss and cheer too loudly – I have never met him. I was later struck by the number of ARPA E grantees in the audience who asked similar questions during each session – “who do we look to that can help us define our commercialization path”. This is a hard hard question. ARPAE has a small staff and small budget. These were scientist w early stage companies in a vertical that doesn’t have a clear commercialization pathway. Equally difficult – there are just not enough experienced energy entrepreneurs to link up w all these early stage technologies. My answer (and my fellow panelist from Kleiner, BP, Lockheed and Raytheon didn’t disagree or have another option) – find a fellow faculty member at your university who has had a successful commercialization experience. I am encouraging the buddy system. If we had scaled a high quality energy mentor program that would have been a recommendation, but we haven’t. If we had scaled – and I have tried to sell this to the DOE- a high quality commercialization education program; that would be a recommendation.
So for the moment I recommend those of you that have ARPA E funding and need more guidance than their resources can afford —- go find a rock star scientist. Next – hope that the DOE decides to put resources into Commercialization education, mentoring and ARPE so we can see a return on our taxpayer investment.