Launched by the Colorado Cleantech Industries Association in 2012, the Energy Fellows Institute (EFI) takes participants on an immersive deep dive into cleantech on Colorado’s Front Range.

Applications for the 2019 Energy Fellows Institute are accepted until March 29. The program takes place May 15-17 and 20-22. Learn more and apply here.

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“It’s the only program of its kind focusing on cleantech in Colorado, maybe the country” says Communications Director Emily Long. “The program itself has gelled into something that’s really valuable for both participating fellows and the presenting companies and organizations.”

The six-day program spends two days in Boulder, two days in metro Denver, and a day each in Golden and Fort Collins. “We update the curriculum every year to reflect current industry trends, highlight local cleantech innovators and meet the needs of what’s most relevant and what people are interested in.”

EFI introduces participants to cleantech investors, and takes them to such sites as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in Boulder, and New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins.

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A group of Energy Fellows in 2018 listen as Cara Carmichael (left) explains key energy features at the Rocky Mountain Institute’s new net zero energy office building in Boulder. 

 

The program also takes participants to Xcel’s Cherokee Generating Station in Denver, which was recently converted from coal to natural gas. “It’s really fascinating to go there,” says Long. “That’s what makes the Energy Fellows Institute so interesting. We’re in the midst of this shift.”

It’s not just about energy technology; the curriculum covers subjects from transportation and construction to air and water, and the interrelationships between sectors, says Long. It also offers session on the foundational elements of a strong cleantech ecosystem through policy, workforce, and funding conversations. “How that network will connect, CCIA and the Energy Fellows Institute is really at the center of that nexus. It gives a very small group of people the opportunity to go to these places and make connections.”

CCIA selects about 10 applicants every year for the program; tuition is $1,750. Long says participants are typically leaders of cleantech companies, serial entrepreneurs, and people looking to transition into cleantech from other industries.

“This program is for executive-level people,” says Long. “The aim is really to strengthen and hone connections.” State and federal employees have gone with the support of their agencies, she adds. “There’s value for the individual in the program, but there’s also value to their organizations.”

“A good number of people go into it looking to make a jump into renewable energy as their next career step,” says Long. “It’s valuable for that purpose, but it’s not valuable for only job seekers. Success in this program is that participants come away with an understanding of all of the different paths and manners that connect Colorado’s clean energy economy.”

She notes that EFI is a unique program both locally and nationally, and that provides an opening for expansion through workshops, webinars, and focused program. “The clean energy economy is the economy of the future,” says Long. “It’s our goal to advance the entire ecosystem.”

Wayne Greenberg, CEO of E Source, a Boulder-based research and consulting firm focused on utilities, has been involved in the program from the beginning. He was hired in 2011 by CCIA and NREL to help develop EFI.

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The 2018 Energy Fellows Institute visits Denver’s Cherokee Generating Station, which was converted from coal to natural gas.

While the format has changed over the years, the spirit of the program remains the same. Greenberg says the impetus was the investment community increasingly moving money into renewables and other cleantech, so there was a need to correspondingly recruit executive-level talent from other industries, such as healthcare, airlines, and manufacturing.

“A lot of people who were involved have the scars of persistence and have made it through to the other side,” says Greenberg, pointing to industries with legacies of three or more generations running companies. “We don’t have any of that. We have one and a half generations of cleantech CEOs.”

It’s a big challenge, but it’s an even bigger opportunity. “There is a cleantech ecosystem in Colorado,” says Greenberg. “That’s great for CCIA and that’s great for Colorado.”

Beth Hartman was working as a Colorado-based project manager for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, California, when she was an Energy Fellow in 2018.

The experience gave her “a better understanding of all the energy innovation and research groups in Colorado,” she says. “I knew a little bit about some of them, but 70 to 80 percent of the Energy Fellows Institute was totally new to me.”

Fort Collins stood out to her. “I wasn’t aware of all of the things the city and the utilities were doing there,” says Hartman. Same went for the visit to the IKEA store in Centennial: “I had no idea the scale of their commitment to clean energy.”

The experience helped lead Hartman to a new job at RMI in 2018 as her project with EPRI came to a conclusion. “There was an opening and it worked out,” say Hartman. “It was a natural transition point.”

She sees EFI as most beneficial to mid-career people in both cleantech and other industries. “It’s a good way to ramp up to what’s happening in Colorado,” says Hartman.

Another 2018 EFI participant, Hunter Albright, PhD, founded Boulder-based consulting firm Curve10 in 2017. He says he applied to the program “to continue to network and learn more, but also get involved in the startup and funding worlds.”

Albright says participating the program paid off for him. “All the days were action-packed and presenters shared a tremendous amount,” he says. “It was a great way to get an accelerated introduction to the movers and shakers in the industry in Colorado.”

Sam Jaffe, founder and managing director of Cairn Energy Research Advisors (Cairn ERA) in Boulder, has worked in the battery and energy storage space for about 15 years. He’s been involved in EFI since 2014, when he was tapped to help with the curriculum for energy storage and continues to give talks to participants on the topic.

Jaffe says he sees a trend of more “intraprenuers” enrolling with the support of their employer, and sees room for the program to expand. “Absolutely, there’s a need for that in Colorado.”

“Within the Colorado cleantech community, it’s a binding factor. It’s glue that keeps the community together and in communication,” he says of the program. “It’s like networking on steroids. As a Fellow, you’re able to quickly and exhaustively meet members of the cleantech industry.”

Applications for the 2019 Energy Fellows Institute are accepted until March 29. The program takes place May 15-17 and 20-22. Learn more and apply here.

LEARN MORE AND APPLY