Challenge: Entrepreneurs and businesses attempting to develop and commercialize new advanced energy technologies must overcome significant barriers to enter the global market. In addition to the lack of testing and scaling resources, they may be hindered by limited time and funding, mainly due to lengthy, onerous application processes. Testbeds are user facilities for testing new products that centralize needed equipment and streamline access, helping to decrease costs, expedite time to market, and encourage knowledge sharing. While many states have exceptional university-based research labs, states that lack testbeds that are dedicated to commercialization efforts and open to the public may fall behind.
Solution: States could sponsor and create advanced energy testbeds to accelerate technology development and stimulate innovation. Municipalities and regional economic development groups—with support from local universities, industry, incubators, and accelerators—could collaborate to facilitate funding for the testbed from the state and/ or via match programs by leveraging the testbed as a public education and business attraction tool. By centralizing and streamlining access to testing resources for advanced energy innovators, states could accelerate technology development and further spur the entrepreneurial culture.
Example: Based out of the University of Washington, the Washington Nanofabrication Facility is a public access resource that houses micro- and nanotechnology testing capabilities and fabrication services. Entrepreneurs and businesses that wish to use the testbed must simply participate in an initial consultation to discuss project feasibility, design, and safety. The Washington Nanofabrication Facility offers à la carte pricing and services to accommodate all user types. All interested users can access the lab if it meets their needs and they accept the user agreements. The facility supports 200-250 unique users and over 220 projects each year, with a 3:2 ratio of industrial users from small and large companies to academic users. Through in-house training and expertise, users can utilize equipment after a few hours, develop processes within days depending on the complexity of the problem, and develop a prototype in 3-6 months. If the lab lacks a certain capability, lab staff help to facilitate connections to other resources that can fill the identified gap. From 2012 to 2016, this customer service-oriented approach supported a 283 percent increase in the lab’s revenue.