NREL Industry Growth Forum Welcomes Sell-Out Crowd to Denver

May 20, 2024 by Dan McCue
NREL Industry Growth Forum Welcomes Sell-Out Crowd to Denver
Maple Materials co-Founder and CEO Drew Reid meets with an investor during the 29th annual NREL Industry Growth Forum. (Photo: Kira Vos)

DENVER — The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s annual Industrial Growth Forum, a sell-out for the second year, welcomed hundreds of hopeful entrepreneurs and potential backers to the Hyatt Regency hotel at the Colorado Convention Center.  

In all, nearly 900 people attended the gathering, held May 1-3, with a total of 364 startups meeting with 257 investors over the course of three days.

In addition, pre-selected startups vied for top prizes in a pitch competition.

“I can feel the excitement in the air,” said Trish Cozart, director of the NREL Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, during her opening remarks.

“All the possibilities and pent-up potential. We’re here to break new ground together. Welcome to several days of what I think are some of the most inspiring of the whole year,” she said.

The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center is the lead sponsor of the event, which this year revolved around the theme “Breaking Ground.”

NREL Director Martin Keller underscored the importance of the event by noting that the climate-tech investors in attendance planned to invest roughly $7 billion in the nascent companies over the next 121 months.

“This event is to help you get some of these important funds to go to the next level and accelerate your work,” Keller said.

The centerpiece of the event is the series of one-on-one meetings that take place between startups and investors — essentially up to a dozen back-to-back meetings, each lasting no more than 10 minutes.

According to a release on the NREL website, this year featured nearly 1,500 meetings during the formal session and more than 1,600 meetings in the ad-hoc sessions.

Among the presenters at the event was Mike Delgado, director of energy and climate research for the Rhodium Group.

He told attendees that investments in clean manufacturing, energy and industrial facilities reached $239 billion in 2023, up by 38% from a year earlier and more than three times what it was in 2020.

In addition, investments in clean transportation, energy and manufacturing plants, equipment, and goods represented 5% of all fixed-asset investment in the United States in 2023.

“The growth in clean investment has been so large and so continuous that it’s an extremely effective buoy of economic growth,” Delgado said. “It’s becoming a major driver in the overall landscape.”

This year’s pitch competition featured 40 startups in four different groupings: Early Stage, Commercialization Stage, Growth Stage, and Breaking Ground/Production-Scale Pilots Stage. 

This year’s award winners were:

Outstanding Venture — Early Stage

1st place: Ayrton Energy, Alberta, Canada.

2nd place: Otoro Energy, Boulder, Colorado.

Outstanding Venture — Commercialization Stage

1st place: Mitra Chem, Mountain View, California.

2nd place: Mycocycle, Bolingbrook, Illinois.

Outstanding Venture — Growth Stage

1st place: CleanFiber, Buffalo, New York.

Outstanding Venture — Breaking Ground/Production-Scale Pilots Stage

1st place: Living Ink Technologies, Berthoud, Colorado.

The winners of two additional awards were also announced:

Best Venture Award

Queens Carbon, Pine Brook, New Jersey.

People’s Choice Award

Adena Power, Lewis Center, Ohio.

During her  closing remarks ahead of the award ceremony, Cozart observed that it often takes time to deploy new technologies.

“If [the process] was short, we’d call it the energy switch, not the transition,” she said. “But we’re here to help build those connections so we can break ground even faster. 

“We want to pick up our shovels and dig in and really work with you,” Cozart concluded.

Next year’s IGF, the 30th anniversary of the event, is set for March 26-28, 2025, in Denver, Colorado. 

For additional information, click here.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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