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DOE's First Entrepreneur In Residence Program: FAIL

Here’s more feedback that the Department of Energy’s first entrepreneur-in-residence program, which paired entrepreneurs from three well-known venture capital firms (Kleiner Perkins, Foundation Capital and ARCH Venture Partners) with national labs, just didn’t deliver: Foundation Capital’s DOE EIR participant Michael Bauer is back working as an EIR for Foundation Capital and looking for his next energy company to launch, reports the New York Times.

Bauer, who worked in the DOE EIR project at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, tells the Times that the DOE EIR program “[W]as fascinating but also very disappointing. . . I looked at 1,500 invention disclosures and walked away from 1,500 ideas.” The original idea for the program was that these chosen entrepreneurs would enter the labs, which are chock full of energy intellectual property that have yet to be turned into businesses, and spin out a cleantech company in 3-4 month.

Two years ago when the program was being developed a representative of NREL’s Office of Technology Transfer told me that “We plan to use this program as a starting point for a cultural change and push the entrepreneurial spirit.” Clearly the program didn’t work out as hoped. I haven’t spoken with the EIR from ARCH Venture Partners, but 2 out of the 3 DOE EIRs didn’t deliver companies.

Joel Serface, the EIR from Kleiner Perkins that did the same program in the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) had a similar experience as Bauer. Serface wrote last year that he “felt like a kid in a candy store,” but that there weren’t any companies spun out during his time there.

Serface summed up the problems with the DOE EIR program pretty well and explained that the “DOE’s calculus was if they inserted a serial entrepreneur/investor backed by a brand-named VC firm into a lab that magic would happen and that an innovation would turn immediately into a company.” Not so much. “Unfortunately, the EIR program was timed too short to reach its full potential and to get the first one of these ideas set up as a company,” he wrote.

I’m curious to know if the DOE will continue the program, with a new round of EIRs, and take some of these suggestions to heart. Clearly the EIRs want and need a much a longer time frame within which to study and work with the technologies.

Random science image courtesy of NREL.

One Response to “DOE's First Entrepreneur In Residence Program: FAIL”

  1. Real entrepreneur

    why should the American taxpayer give Michael Bauer and Joel Serface more time to fail? Check out the other DOE EIRs. They are quite successful, but don’t waste time blogging.