Agriculture, Commercial Buildings, Mobility
May 21, 2022—The Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN²) identifies, validates, and scales promising cleantech startups, with the goal of commercializing high-impact, low-carbon solutions for the built environment and agriculture sectors. One of the most important factors our board and industry experts consider when selecting which startups are accepted into the IN² program is if their technology has a high probability of making a positive environmental impact once they reach the market at scale.
We can define and measure environmental impact in several ways. The companies in our sustainable agriculture cohort, for example, address challenges related to the industry’s ability to sustainably feed the growing population through innovative solutions in crop nutrition, physical infrastructure, automated crop protection, indoor agtech, and new crops. Our other cohorts include efforts to reduce the energy consumption of commercial buildings and residential housing, which combined consume 40% of the nation’s energy. These companies make a difference, through energy management technologies, advanced manufacturing and construction processes, sustainable materials, energy storage, and improved heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC).
Since our founding in 2014, dozens of the startups in IN²’s portfolio have graduated from the program. With the technical assistance and validation of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, and the prestige associated with that validation, IN² propels our companies along the path from bench or prototype scale to commercial viability. Our alumni remain active today, contributing to lowering the environmental footprint of their respective fields.
Impactful solutions also translate into market competitiveness. Many of our alumni companies were acquired or merged with major corporations and portfolio of startups collectively raised more than $1 billion in external funding since joining IN². As startups continue to join and graduate from the program, it is our hope they can deliver impacts similar to those of provided by the following sample of featured alumni companies:
Commercial and residential buildings currently account for more than 40% of energy usage in the United
States. To improve the energy efficiency of buildings, as well as the comfort and health of its inhabitants, 75F developed an Internet-of-Things (IoT)-based building management system (BMS) that can monitor, analyze, predict, and control a building’s hot and cold spots before they occur. This technology uses smart sensors and controls to optimize where and when to adjust indoor air quality and lighting, reducing energy use by 30%–50% for equipment controlled by the system.
Through IN2, NREL supported a technology validation study using DOE’s EnergyPlusTM program, simulating the use of 75F’s BMS across 14 different building types and 857 different U.S. climates. The simulations conducted using the national lab’s supercomputers provided 75F with detailed data on their BMS’s energy and cost savings potential, which 75F can then provide to potential investors and customers.
Since graduating from IN2, 75F has raised a $28M Series A and announced a collaboration with Daikin Applied Americas, the world’s largest manufacturer of HVAC systems. 75F has also been impactful in supporting commercial buildings facing challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. 75F enables building managers to remotely monitor and adjust energy use in unoccupied spaces, and also offers an “epidemic mode,” which automates adherence to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines concerning ventilation in indoor spaces such as offices and schools.
Farmers need to regularly survey their fields to ensure their crops are not damaged by pests and diseases, a process that can take countless hours and comes with a large margin of error. Aker’s TrueCauseTM technology helps farmers automate this process by collecting data from above and below the growing canopy using drones equipped with probes and sensors. Aker then translates these data into information that allows growers to identify crop threats quickly and accurately.
By working with IN2 and the Danforth Center, Aker expanded their technology’s capabilities beyond insect pest information to include early detection of pathogens. Through the partnership, Aker conducted field pilot projects with early adopters, providing the information and proof points needed to help accelerate market validation.
By using Aker’s technologies, farmers can reduce the amount of pesticides used on crops, focusing only on the areas that need attention. These increased efficiencies result in higher yields, lower costs, and increased environmental sustainability. Aker secured $3.5M in venture capital funding since joining the IN2 program and is currently expanding its business into Brazil and Mexico, in addition to the more than 2,500 ZIP codes they already serve.
As buildings become smarter and more complex, the additional devices and equipment needed to operate them can result in increased energy use, and in turn, increased carbon emissions. J2 Innovations addresses this issue by working with building managers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and IoT device companies to reduce the energy impact on the environment. J2’s software, the Fluid INtegration (FIN) framework, enables OEMs to speed their time to market, system integrators to reduce labor and time required to design and commission building automation systems, and building owners and facility managers to save operating and energy costs.
J2 Innovations and IN2 collaborated on prototyping a potential fault detection and diagnostics application for the FIN framework, which automatically and proactively identifies and addresses building system problems before they cause significant energy waste. The collaboration utilized DOE’s EnergyPlusTM program to simulate various buildings, integrating the FIN framework to validate and quantify the energy impact this technology could have on the built environment without the need of existing buildings.
The same year they graduated from the IN2 program, J2 Innovations was acquired by Siemens. Siemens was originally an OEM customer of J2 Innovations. The company has since doubled in size, expanding into Europe and Australia. As the reach of the FIN software grows, so does the reduction of carbon emissions, with J2 Innovations seeking to impact not only large, LEED-certified buildings, but underserved smaller buildings as well.
Despite the environmental benefits of electric vehicles (EVs), the increased use of EV charging presents challenges such as “peak demand events,” where the widespread need for electricity can significantly increase prices and stress the grid. PowerFlex provides an adaptive EV charging technology that adjusts the speed of the charge based on several factors, such as the number of vehicles plugged in at any given time, other energy demands on the system, and available power from different energy sources. Through managed charging, grid operators and charging station managers can save on the money and energy needed to power EVs.
PowerFlex approached IN2 for help testing their joint optimization of EV charging and grid operation. The project used NREL’s Flatirons Campus as a living laboratory, where NREL installed 16 charging stations managed by the PowerFlex adaptive charging network for employee use. PowerFlex used the resulting data to improve and develop its product. NREL ultimately purchased the chargers, as well as 108 more for its South Table Mountain campus in Golden, Colorado.
EDF Renewables North America, a major renewable energy producer and service provider, acquired PowerFlex in 2019. Through its expanded capabilities, PowerFlex now contributes to on-site smart microgrid systems that incorporate solar and storage with the EV charging systems.