Tuesday, July 13, 2010

GE offers $200 million to crowdsource smart grid innovation; takes page from DARPA

By Andrew Nusca

Taking a page from the Pentagon’s research arm, General Electric on Tuesday announced a $200 million open innovation challenge seeking ideas for a better smart grid.

Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt unveiled the Ecomagination challenge in a global broadcast, soliciting technologists, entrepreneurs and start-ups to share ideas that will help GE build a next-generation power grid.

“Green is green,” Immelt said. “We kinda think this is a good idea.”

Immelt said the challenge was intended to accelerate progress by taking advantage of the best ideas from everywhere and combining them with GE’s ability to deploy them on a massive global scale.

“We’re all about scale,” he said. “Our business would be a Fortune 130 company just in clean technology.”

The challenge starts with a $200 million capital pledge by GE and its partners.

From there:

1. An entrant’s business strategy is validated by GE’s technical and commercial teams.
2. Partnerships help GE scale the business globally.
3. GE gets its technical infrastructure and Global Research Centers in gear to accelerate development.
4. GE looks at its existing customer base to take the product to market.

The challenge will last 10 weeks. A $100,000 innovation challenge award is also available for entries demonstrating “outstanding entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Partners for the challenge include leading cleantech venture capital firms, including:

* Emerald Technology Ventures
* Foundation Capital
* Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer
* RockPort Capital

“How do we get ideas that can scale and implement quickly?” GE CMO Beth Comstock asked an audience in San Francisco. “How do we take new emerging technologies out of the lab [and] put them on the road and on rooftops?”

“[Ecomaginationj] is good for business, it’s good for GE and it’s good for the environment. Those benefits aren’t mutually exclusive. We want to make clean technology our reality.”
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