The U.S. Department of Energy said Wednesday it has selected three venture-capital firms to identify innovative technologies at federal laboratories and then build companies around them.
Alexander Karsner, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, announced the names of the firms at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco.
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers will get access to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, ARCH Venture Partners will roam Sandia National Laboratory, and Foundation Capital will cruise the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The firms are the first to participate in what is called the Entrepreneur-In-Residence Program, where they each send a representative to labs for a year.
Karsner first spoke of the program in October, when he announced the department was planning to give venture capitalists "unfettered access" to the three labs.
With the first firms selected, Karsner shared more details about the program Wednesday, including that the department will give each firm up to $100,000 to help defray salary and other costs. Firms also are expected to contribute extra financial support.
Once a resident entrepreneur has honed in on a lab-developed technology, their venture-capital sponsor will negotiate a license to form and finance a startup.
The federal agency has created a standard licensing agreement, which it says is tailored for entrepreneurs and small businesses. The agreement includes a provision that allows the resident entrepreneur to offer partial ownership of the newly formed company as full or partial payment for the license.
The provision is meant to help startups use initial resources for growth as opposed to spending much-needed cash on up-front royalty payments.
Karsner said the licensing agreement will play a key role in bringing government lab work to the masses.
"It just takes the gum out of the works at the end of the pipeline to increase fluidity and throughput into the U.S. marketplace," he said.
The selected firms already are thinking about how their resident entrepreneurs will spend their time at the labs.
"We will be scouting every opportunity," said Steve Vassallo, a principal at Foundation Capital. But he said the firm does have a plan to look first at energy-efficiency technologies and then move on to other areas of interest, like green building materials and storage.
Paul Thurk, a principal at ARCH Ventures, is hoping to get two to three companies spun out from his firm’s time at Sandia National Laboratory.
And with the close of a $400 million fund in December, "we have plenty of dry power to form companies out of Sandia," Thurk said.