To get clean-energy technologies from Warren to the world, we need federal innovation funding: Rick Stockburger

WARREN, Ohio — It’s hard to find a place more Main Street U.S.A. than Courthouse Square in downtown Warren. Hard on the banks of a bend in the Mahoning River, this is where my office sits, just across the green from the Trumbull County Courthouse and the local sheriff’s office.

This bucolic Midwestern setting may not be where you would expect world-leading, cutting-edge energy technologies to be developed, but at BRITE Energy Innovators, the nonprofit energy startup incubator I lead, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Innovation in the energy sector is one of the true engines of America’s economy. Lately, much of that innovation has been happening in clean energy – including at the solar startups, energy efficiency businesses, and renewable hydrogen technology companies that are closely connected to BRITE Energy or housed inside our West Market Street storefront.

Working alongside dozens of innovative Ohio energy entrepreneurs and small business owners has me convinced: We need more bold federal investments in clean, renewable energy. If we don’t ramp up investments now, the United States will flounder in the global clean-tech race, especially as the European Union and China double down on their own ambitious climate targets and scale up government investments in clean energy technology and innovation.

In a recent letter I co-signed organized by the national, nonpartisan business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) and sent to federal lawmakers – including Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican whose district lies just west of Warren; Rep. Tim Ryan, a Warren-area Democrat who helped secure initial funding for Brite Energy Innovators a decade ago; and Sens. Rob Portman, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat – we know the value of putting federal dollars toward loans and grants for innovation. And we know federal loans and grants after the 2008 financial crisis helped get nearly 500 companies off the ground and re-energized thousands more.

Rick Stockburger pictured in front of the BRITE Energy Innovators office in downtown Warren, Ohio.

Rick Stockburger pictured in front of the BRITE Energy Innovators office in downtown Warren, Ohio.

Here in Warren, clean-tech innovation creates jobs, too. BRITE Energy currently has 30 companies in our portfolio. We connect them with our network of partners and funders, offer affordable downtown office space and provide use of advanced equipment, technology, and data and market analytics.

Since 2011, BRITE Energy’s work has enabled more than 250 companies to grow, helping create nearly 500 jobs and securing nearly $250 million in investments. With strong, sustained support from Ohio’s federal lawmakers, this success can be replicated and scaled up across the state and the Midwest.

Already, Europe is well in the lead in the global renewable hydrogen industry, and the latest round of stimulus funding from the European Union will only pad it. In Europe, for example, the EU has just allocated more than a third of its $900 billion-plus stimulus fund to support projects related to climate change. Much of this funding will help European companies that are advancing the same kinds of technologies small Ohio clean energy companies are working on, too.

Ohio can compete with this. Paul Matter is co-founder of one of our portfolio companies, Columbus-based Power To Hydrogen. In a recent interview, Paul commented on how Ohio is in prime position to capture its share of the world’s growing hydrogen fuel cell market. He cites the wind on Lake Erie, previous investments from NASA to help develop fuel cells near Cleveland, and an existing hydrogen manufacturing ecosystem that already churns out hydrogen tanks (Worthington Industries) and other components (GrafTech in Cleveland).

We need to make sure the companies powering our future are based in Columbus, Cleveland and Warren – not Copenhagen and Warsaw.

Given the outsized economic and jobs impact these innovators have on Ohio – and the increasingly stiff competition we face from abroad – we need more federal investments in clean energy innovation now.

Rick Stockburger is president and CEO of BRITE Energy Innovators, an energy technology incubator based in Warren.

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