Several University Technology Park companies have made news headlines in the last month as they gain well-earned recognition for their contributions to clean energy around the world.
In early August the Chicago Tribune reported that Tech Park graduate AllCell Technologies has signed an agreement with the government of Jordan to build 3,000 solar-powered electric charging stations across the country. The $120-million deal – AllCell’s largest to date – confirms that this thriving startup has come into its own, says founder and CEO Said Al-Hallaj. AllCell’s manufacturing plant on the Southwest Side now employs more than 45, and we’re betting this latest development will bring even more jobs to the city.
Not long after AllCell’s news broke, we learned that that SmarterShade, a current Tech Park company, had been acquired by VG SmartGlass of Jupiter, Florida. The announcement came just after founder Mike Stacey shared the company’s room-darkening technology at a White House conference on clean energy. The acquisition enables Mike and his team to move their innovative product into the global marketplace.
AllCell, SmarterShade and several other Tech Park startups have benefited from a growing ecosystem focused on clean energy innovation in Illinois, and we’re proud to have played an active role in its development.
In 2010 Illinois Tech won a competitive contract from the Small Business Administration to create the Illinois Smart Grid Regional Innovation Cluster, an initiative that today supports 35 startups working on concepts in smart grid, clean tech and energy storage. Now in its 6th year, the Cluster brings together the resources of Illinois’ universities, leading energy-related corporations, start-ups and clean-energy-focused nonprofits to explore new concepts for better energy utilization and grid modernization across the state.
Our lead partner in this project, Energy Foundry, was created by state legislation in 2011 that also established a 10-year plan for renewal of our state’s electric grid. Energy Foundry drives the programming for the cluster and provides early-stage venture funding for startups, which now totals over $82.5 million in grants and follow-on investments.
The expertise we share with the Smart Grid Cluster is part of a larger picture here at Illinois Tech, one that reflects the university’s commitment to lead the way in sustainable energy and smart grid technology. Over the past decade the university has established the Wanger Institute for Sustainable Energy Research and the Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation, both located here in the Tech Park, and added 4 chaired professorships in energy, grid management and storage.
Our campus has also become a showcase of new ideas in energy efficiency with the transformation of our electrical distribution system into a smart microgrid. University buildings now benefit from self-healing electrical systems that make use of solar and wind power. Innovative software controls and measures the interaction of all system elements.
As our commitment to clean energy has grown, we’ve had great success in working with the Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust (CET) to promote the growth of early-stage companies here at Tech Park. We offer lease discounts to winners of CET’s Clean Energy Challenge and actively link them with Illinois Tech faculty and resources, including the smart grid demonstration platform next to the Tech Park campus.
How do all these forms of support come together to help promising startups move forward? A look at another Tech Park standout that’s been in the news lately tells the story.
SiNode Systems moved to UTP in 2012 after searching for well-equipped lab space in which to produce the graphene-based thin films used in their unique lithium-ion batteries. SiNode’s technology, which is based on research conducted at Northwestern University, was showcased in CET’s Clean Energy Challenge and later, in the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition’s Corporate Startup Challenge.
SiNode has benefited from talented Illinois Tech student interns whose work was funded by the Smart Grid Cluster. Seed funds for the company’s growth have also been provided by a group of partners that includes Energy Foundry.
Only a powerful statewide network can deliver integrated support like this – and it’s gratifying to see how far we’ve come in just 10 years. Together we’re creating jobs as we take on some of the most complex energy challenges faced by economies around the nation and the world.
Our congratulations go out to AllCell, SmarterShade and SiNode Systems and the growing ecosystem that helps them move forward.