The University of Central Florida will lead an ambitious new program aimed at connecting promising research in energy efficiency with the students and business development professionals who can transform the results into new companies and high-paying jobs

UCF’s “MegaWatt Ventures” program is one of five national projects designed to build and strengthen “innovation ecosystems” that will accelerate the movement of cutting-edge energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies from university laboratories into the market.

Announced by U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the ecosystems will foster collaborative environments, bringing together key players from universities, the private sector, the federal government and Department of Energy National Laboratories.

UCF’s Office of Research and Commercialization will receive $1.05 million to begin its program at four Florida universities: UCF, the University of Florida, the University of South Florida and the Florida Institute of Technology. At those institutions, master’s and doctoral level science and engineering students will have the opportunity to choose promising technologies from a catalogue compiled by the participating universities.

The students will form teams to explore the development of the technologies, and each year ten groups will be awarded $10,000 each and given six months to complete a prototype and assemble a start-up team.  The final competition will award one team $100,000 to start a company based on its plan. 

The program later will expand to universities throughout Florida and, ultimately, the southeastern United States.

Through additional sponsorships, it is hoped that the competition also will become a feeder program for the prestigious National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Industry Growth Forum.  The forum annually brings together start-up clean energy companies, venture capitalists and senior business executives to spark the development of companies focusing on cutting-edge technologies.  

“Many great clean energy technologies have been born in our nation’s research universities. Accelerating linkages between university research, investors and the business world is essential to moving these great ideas to the marketplace,” Secretary Chu said. “The innovative clean energy start-up companies supported by these ecosystems will advance American competitiveness and will help create the jobs of the future.”

The projects were selected based on the following objectives: nurturing and mentoring entrepreneurs, pursuing intellectual property protection for technological innovations, engaging the surrounding business and venture capital community, and integrating sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation across university schools and departments.

The projects build on the work of the Department of Energy’s broader commercialization efforts, which focus on connecting research and development activities with the venture capital funding and expertise that will help increase the rate and scale of clean energy technology market penetration across the country.