Team VELOCITI poses for a photo.

Partnering for Innovation: U.S. Entrepreneurs Gain Access to the National Labs

July 27, 2022 10:35 am Published by

Project teams from Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) convened at Sandia in June to advance a newly funded U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program aimed at increasing solar entrepreneurs’ access to the national labs. The Vouchers to Enable Laboratory and Organizational Collaboration for Innovation and Technology Improvements (VELOCITI) program provides U.S. innovators with voucher dollars to spend at the national labs to develop their potentially game-changing solar technologies. Intended as a collaborative, cross-lab effort, VELOCITI is co-led by Sandia and NREL and includes PNNL as a flagship member. In the coming months, the team plans to expand the program to include other lab members, with the aim of growing and diversifying its technical talent pool.

“This so-called ‘Collaboratory’ approach—as opposed to each lab recruiting its own voucher recipients—has improved programmatic efficiencies, provided access to a larger pool of technical talent for the innovators, and created a synergistic forum for collaboration among the national labs,” said Laurie Burnham, a VELOCITI team member.

Over the past several years, voucher work has become increasingly popular, thanks to programs such as the American-Made Challenges Solar Prize, which gives winning teams both prize money as well as vouchers to spend at the national labs. Because of the vouchers’ success, DOE is now expanding voucher work beyond the Solar Prize to include other DOE funding programs, which will be harmonized under the VELOCITI umbrella.  

“Vouchers have proven to be a key success factor for Solar Prize innovators,” said Debbie Brodt-Giles, American-Made Program Manager and NREL VELOCITI team member. “Now that we have VELOCITI established, and our labs are working so closely together, we are making great progress in connecting even more innovators to lab staff and in significantly speeding up the collaborative process.”

Mary Monson, Sandia’s senior manager for Technology Partnerships and Business Development, met with the VELOCITI team and also spoke to the value of building bridges with the national labs. “Programs like VELOCITI accelerate and simplify the technology transition process, making it possible for participants to easily access the wide variety of expertise available at multiple labs,” she said.

The program, which is funded by DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), has three primary goals: leveraging DOE investments in the national labs to help build a more robust, resilient and cost-effective U.S. energy sector; creating streamlined processes for matching entrepreneurs to the researchers, facilities, and national labs that best support their technical objectives; and ensuring impact and continuous improvement by tracking success at the programmatic, national-lab and entrepreneur level.

“SETO is proud to have a long history of supporting national lab vouchers and we are setting VELOCITI up in a way that it can be readily expanded to other technologies and DOE offices,” says Dr. Peter Lobaccaro, SETO’s Solar Prize Manager and a VELOCITI champion. “We know our lab researchers are excited to help accelerate innovation and support the development of new technologies and creative approaches to solving our nation’s energy challenges.”

Although still in the development phase, VELOCITI is envisioned as both an expandable and replicable concept, with more labs and more DOE programs coming into the program every year, and with other federal agencies eventually adopting their own versions.

To learn more about the VELOCITI program, contact Laurie Burnham.

TEAM VELOCITI: Back row (left to right): Irene Trujillo, (SNL); Alyssa Kolski, (SNL); Lance Wheeler, (NREL); Jaime Kolln, (PNNL). Front row (left to right): Laurie Burnham, (SNL); Debbie Brodt-Gilles, (NREL); Sarah Gomach, (NREL); Sabrah Holmes, (PNNL).

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