The Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) is powered by a pipeline. The pipeline is fueled by a network of more than 55 cleantech and sustainability-focused business incubators, accelerators, and universities that send the best and brightest startups in their networks to apply to the IN2 program. These are the Channel Partners and their model is working. Now supporting its fifth cohort, IN2 has invited 25 startups referred by the Channel Partners to participate, and collectively those companies have gone on to raise more than $122 million in external follow-on funding, been acquired by successful corporations, and seen a 66% growth in employees.
In order to fully nurture and grow the Channel Partner ecosystem, in 2017 the IN2 program launched the Channel Partner Awards Program. Going beyond the single role of a technology incubator, this portion of IN2 is focused on funding the program’s network of incubators, accelerators, and university programs as key stakeholders in the transition to a future low-carbon economy.
The awards program was established with $5 million in committed funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation to be distributed over four years.
“Ultimately, the goal with our Channel Partner Awards Program is to create a strong, collaborative ecosystem of cleantech and agtech support across the country,” said Trish Cozart, IN2 Program Manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “We are funding these partners to not only continue their support of early-stage entrepreneurs but each other, as they create partnerships and share knowledge and learnings.”
Since its inception, $2.1 million in competitive and non-competitive Channel Partner Awards have supported more than 74 events, strategic meetings and trainings, and 21 larger strategic initiatives between 23 organizations.
The annual awards program has two categories:
Ecosystem Awards are provided to each Channel Partner that opts in to participate and are designed to give a voice to local cleantech communities. Awardees are expected to engage with their communities in order to identify gaps within their local, regional, and national ecosystems that hinder cleantech development and commercialization. Funds can be used to convene stakeholders, entrepreneurs, key community members, investors, or to engage STEM and K-12 students.
Strategic Awards are competitive grants that Channel Partners can apply for to fund efforts that further support the mission of advancing clean technology solutions, and that can ultimately be leveraged across the entire IN2 stakeholder network. Organizations are encouraged to partner with each other and incorporate diversity, environmental and/or STEM education, and low to moderate-income impact. These programs are meant to be unique, tackling creative and diverse challenges across the cleantech sector.
Ultimately, IN2 strives to build and enhance a nationwide cleantech and agtech ecosystem, and does so by running a technology incubator, along with award initiatives that lead to partnerships, capital flow, job creation, and sharing of best practices. After just one pilot year of the Channel Partner Awards Program, funded projects have engaged over 1,800 participants (entrepreneurs, industry, academia, and others), created nearly 200 jobs, led to over $18.3 million in follow-on funding for startups involved, and earned $812 thousand in matching funds from outside organizations.
“Our program is proud to further support these organizations that are committed to clean technology and early-stage entrepreneurs,” said Ramsay Huntley, Clean Technology and Innovation Philanthropy program officer with Wells Fargo. “These are the folks who are really disrupting the industry and driving innovation.”
Project descriptions from the 2017 Strategic Awards can be found in the Wells Fargo Newsroom. Stay tuned for monthly blogs highlighting these award-winning Channel Partners.