A Midwest nonprofit and a financial institution are partnering to invest $25,000 in one small energy business to help provide exposure, economic support and mentorship.
The CleanTech Inclusion Award was created to support minorities and women in the white, male-dominated energy space. It focuses on founders who have a product or service that mitigates harmful emissions, reduces carbon or positively impacts the environment.
Clean Energy Trust CEO Erik Birkerts said that over the past 10 years, he’s noticed how daunting funding and growing a clean technology company can be. He says it’s even more difficult for women and people of color.
“We need the best minds working on it, bringing forth the best ideas, whether those are technology solutions or new innovative businesses. And we really can't be exclusive in that effort — we have to be inclusive,” Birkerts said.
Kathy Siddens, community affairs manager for U.S. Bank in the St. Louis region, said the city is the driving force behind small businesses in Missouri, and this award will create the opportunity for underserved entrepreneurs to get funding and exposure.
Studies show that financial backing is limited for women and minority founders in the energy sector, and Birkerts said the result of that is the field is “missing a huge segment of the population that could be instrumental in finding solutions.”
To qualify, a business must have two to 12 employees, be based in the Midwest and have a valid license for relevant intellectual property rights. Also, the small business must be incorporated and cannot have raised more than $1 million from external investors.
Award-eligible sectors include renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart buildings and cities, water, agriculture technology, energy storage, mobility and advanced transportation and circular economy.
Along with the award money, founders will receive one year of business mentorship from Clean Energy Trust and professional networking opportunities.
“St. Louis has tremendous assets — world-class universities and national labs. There's a strong STEM-educated workforce and emerging entrepreneurial culture,” Birkerts said. “We just have to make sure that the assets and the resources that go towards supporting innovation are fair and equitable and that the access is available to everybody.”
The application deadline is Dec. 31.
Andrea Y. Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea at @drebjournalist.
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