Interview with Kathy Magruder, Executive Director of Maryland Clean Energy Center
Are you an inventor looking to move your clean technology to market but need some extra support, or are you interested in providing strategic business guidance for early stage cleantech companies? The Maryland Energy Innovation Accelerator (MEIA) is bringing key team members & strategic partners to new companies that are helping to mitigate climate change. One wind energy company has already earned sponsorship from Exelon as a result of MEIA.
Catherine speaks with Katherine Magruder, Executive Director of Maryland Clean Energy Center, about MEIA’s Energy Executive in Residence program & the impact MEIA has had on facilitating the growth of critical clean tech companies thus far.
Catherine: I’m Catherine McLean Founder and CEO of Dylan Green, and today I have with me Kathy Magruder, the Executive Director of the Maryland Clean Energy Center. Welcome Kathy!
Kathy: Hi Catherine, thanks for having me today.
Catherine: Kathy’s here to talk about MCEC’s new accelerator program that provides experienced business leaders the opportunity to become co-founders of university and federal clean technology spinouts. A Maryland native, Kathy has worked in economic development for over 20 years, in roles in county and state government. In 2009, Kathy became the first Executive Director of the Maryland Clean Energy Center. Can you tell me about MEIA?
Kathy: Glad to. So MEIA stands for Maryland Energy Innovation Accelerator. This is a little different than the traditional incubator model for tech transfer. We’re looking to wrap business expertise around technologies that have been discovered in Maryland University and federal laboratories based in the state. To pull that technology into the marketplace and look to commercialize it for market-ready use. An interesting process because we’re utilizing the involvement of an entrepreneur but not necessarily making them create a startup. What we learned early in the process of evaluating how we should approach this, was that Maryland has a tremendous knowledge economy and there are lots of great technologies in the energy space being developed but the researchers may not necessarily want to start a company. So our approach is not to expect them to do it but to pull business expertise in to evaluate the technology’s viability, to help identify whether or not there’s a market for it, and then to create the business around the technology.
Catherine: Right! Can you give us an example?
Kathy: Sure. One of our companies, a good example is a startup team called Alchemity. This is one of the teams that just completed the spring 2020 cohort work and we matched this company with an oil major executive who happens to live in the D.C. area with two researchers from University of Maryland College Park. The technology uses – it’s a methane capture technology that will allow the captured methane to be converted to value-add chemicals. It’s really important because it also helps reduce leakage from flaring and transportation of natural gas in a way that reduces carbon footprint. This company is still considering whether or not to license the technology formally and create itself. But we’re excited about the interest that it’s getting.
Catherine: Great! And can you tell us about how you match business leaders with the new technologies?
Kathy: Yes. The MEIA model calls for a position called Energy Entrepreneur in Residence. It’s sort of the entrepreneur in residence with a little twist. And we pay individuals who have 10 years or more of business experience, and preferably in related energy sector or climate mitigation, or whatever the technology calls for to have their experience engaged. We bring them in to work for a certain hours to help the process move forward. They might create a business plan, they might call for the design of a logo, whatever it takes to establish that vision. But most importantly what they do is the work of matching the technology with a player in the market that would be interested in utilizing it. You can think of the accelerator as a risk free way for the partners to begin to mesh, and if it turns out that it doesn’t work, then no harm no foul, we move on and do something different. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes the technology finds the market match, sometimes it doesn’t. The idea of consciously doing this, is a different approach for Maryland, and particularly for the energy sector.
Catherine: What is the energy executive’s commitment?
Kathy: So we’re looking at about 100 hours over a 4-5 week period. A team could have two energy entrepreneurs and residents working with them at a time. We’re hoping that the EEIR sees themselves as a co-founder of the company. And we’ve had some who have been really actively engaged and others who the inventor isn’t quite as interested in their involvement, but it’s just part of the process.
Catherine: Yeah. If one of our viewers wants to become an Energy Executive, what is the process?
Kathy: Sure! You can go to the mdeia.org website and there is an application form there. We take applications on a rolling basis both for the EEIRs and for inventors or teams with technology that want to participate in the process. We keep a roster of executives and it may not be that there’s a team that’s ready to work with you now but in the future something will come forward, and so we are taking the applications all the time.
Catherine: Right. And are there roles for people to want to help but can’t give much time?
Kathy: Yes! Yes, absolutely! We are happy to have mentors and sponsors. Mentors may just contribute experience or stories or some guidance for the team moving forward. Sponsors we like to have both with in-kind contributions of services or financial support for the program over all, or financial support for a specific team to help that move forward. It’s kind of a first-come first-served basis. Encourage your viewers to contact us to see how they might participate.
Catherine: Great. Well thank you so much for telling us all about your program.
Kathy: My pleasure!