Written by The Business Journal Staff
Nearly a dozen would-be entrepreneurs have already contacted Fresno State’s brand new energy-innovation incubator — and three full-time employees have just been hired to run the program.
Earlier this year, Fresno State’s was awarded a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission to establish the Central Valley Energy Innovation Cluster, a business incubator that will focus on providing key services, infrastructure and resources for energy entrepreneurs hoping to successfully commercialize new water- and energy-related technologies and innovations.
“The grant award was actually just signed in June so we’ve only been operational for about a month,” said Dr. David Zoldoske, executive director of water initiatives at Fresno State.
“Right now, we’re moving forward putting our team together and have already received about 10 inquiries from entrepreneurs and innovators wanting to participate in the new program,” Zoldoske added. “We’re excited about that and as soon as we get everything in place, we’re going to start promoting it hard.”
The three new hires who will be directly involved in the program are: Jeff Macon, a former staffer at the Lyles Center who developed the Innovate Fresno State’s program and has previous experience working with incubator and accelerator programs; and Helle Petersen, former director of the Central Valley Business Incubator, who will serve as project manager. “She’ll actually be the day-to-day leader of the program,” Zoldoske said.
Yvette Archuleta, a recent Fresno State graduate, will serve as the program’s administrative assistant.
“We’ve applied for about a half million dollars in additional [federal] funding to add an accelerator to the program but we won’t hear if we get it for about three months,” said Zoldoske, who expects to have the program fully operational “either in Q4 of this year or by January 2017.”
Program staffers are currently working on developing a new website for the incubator, which will seek to identify entrepreneurs developing innovative solutions that address the region’s water, energy and food-related needs. “We’ll try to provide them with tools and direction to bring the technology to market,” Zoldoske said.
The entrepreneurs will be able to tap into a variety of services, including technology evaluation, proof-of-concept validation and advisory support as well as opportunities to connect with investors, industry leaders and potential customers.
The Energy Commission’s competitive grant established four innovation cluster regions: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley — each connecting emerging technologies to region-specific needs and opportunities.
The Central Valley Energy Innovation Cluster’s primary focus is on water and ag technologies.
The Valley, which provides water to more than 20 million people and 7 million acres of farmland, and produces more than 80 percent of the state’s agricultural products — must find solutions to its current energy and water challenges, Zoldoske said.
To effectively engage with entrepreneurs in the 39 counties included in the Central Valley Energy Innovation Cluster, a network of regional hubs have also been established at California State University campuses in Bakersfield, Chico, Humboldt, Monterey Bay and Sacramento, and at the Sierra Business Council’s Small Business Development Center in Truckee.
The Fresno State team includes the Office of Community and Economic Development, the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Water and Energy Technology (WET) Incubator.
The partnership, Zoldoske said, represents an opportunity to engage regional stakeholders and “leverage and maximize” the region’s assets and resources while expanding existing programs and services available at the cluster hubs and linking them to maximize regional planning and collaboration.
Funding from the grant will also allow Fresno State’s WET Center to expand its “plug and play” space available to participating entrepreneurs.
“We’re really excited about all of this and expect to have some big announcements and project updates in the coming months,” Zoldoske said.