Wells Fargo’s Innovation Incubator: Getting Start-Ups Through the ‘Death Zone’

Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator

7. Affordable and Clean Energy 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities 13. Climate Action 17. Partnerships for the Goals

Overview

There are multiple layers of innovation embedded in the incubator: partnership and company innovation. The partnership is twofold: the partnership between Wells Fargo, the U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (Danforth Center). The second part relates to the cohort companies and the successful business network's Wells Fargo boasts.

The second innovation comes from cohort companies. Inventions include ways to increase energy efficiency via energy management, combating the waste of energy from HVAC systems, automated crop protection, smart glass, energy storage, energy analysis, housing materials and more.



Citation:

Javorsky, Nicole. “Wells Fargo Incubator Grows Solutions to Tough Energy and Food Problems.” TheHill, 26 Nov. 2019, thehill.com/changing-america/sustainability/energy/472083-wells-fargo-incubator-grows-solutions-to-tough-energy.

Author

Sahana Zutshi

Sahana Zutshi

School

Bard MBA in Sustainability

Bard MBA in Sustainability

Professor

Kristina Kohl

Kristina Kohl

Innovation

What is the "Valley of Death?" anyway? The term is a common one in the startup world, and refers to the difficult time period of covering negative cash flows as the product or service is being set: it is the bane of the majority of startups out there, especially ones in the sustainable space, as their technology requires multiple iterations. Not shocking, of course, that new technologies to solve the SDG goals require a considerable amount of capital- and as they aren't tried and true tech start ups, funding is often lacking to get these companies past their first stumbling steps.

The IN2 incubator is a cross-sectional partnership between business and government. It is a partnership between a financial services company and two very different public counterparts. Wells Fargo does not have technical expertise in the sectors of the companies it aids; the partnerships with the two agencies fill the void. This partnership enables the cohort companies to a flat grant of $250,000, technical expertise, lending and equity services, and most importantly, successful business networks.

The second partnership is between the cohort companies and these business networks. The networking is an important part of this innovation, allowing space for the entrepreneurs in the cleantech and agriculture space room to grow, and increasing their chances of being successful. Cohort companies are from the agriculture, commercial buildings, housing, and cleantech space sectors and get access to companies such as Lockheed Martin, Ingersoll Rand, Danfoss, Emerson Electric, Target, and Costco. In addition to one on one networking, the incubator offers access to events such as Greentech Media, VERGE and others, allowing even more opportunities to pitch their technologies and find success.

Citation:

“Home.” Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2), in2ecosystem.com/.

Wells Fargo’s Innovation Incubator: Getting Start-Ups Through the ‘Death Zone’

Ramsey Huntley, Sustainable Finance Strategist; IN2 Lab (“Home.” Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2), in2ecosystem.com/); IN2 Logo (“Home.” Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2), in2ecosystem.com/)

Inspiration

The program was created in wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and as Huntley notes, “Post the Great Recession, Clean Tech was collapsing, and we needed targeted solutions from a climate perspective that market wasn’t delivering.” As the climate crisis becomes more relevant, Huntley states the incubator is a place where “we can find the most promising technology and get behind that.”

Huntley, with a background in clean energy and a member of the bank’s Sustainability and Corporate leadership team, is a key driver of the program. Specifically hired to expand IN2, which went from $10 million to funding to $30 million as of 2019, for Huntley, the Innovation Incubator is an essential part of the climate change ecosystem.

Overall impact

Climate change is the defining challenge of not just our generation, but of the generations to come. How we rise to the occasion will determine the lives of the next two generations as well as untold billions to come. Yet policy across the world has provided piecemeal answers, and more focus seems to be on fighting amongst ideologies within governments and populations. Huntley is a keen believer in systems solutions and the importance of finding ideas and innovations that march lockstep. The Innovation Incubator allows ideas that fit like puzzle pieces to thrive beside each other. As Huntley notes, the program “Allows a lot of difficult ideas to grow…any one of the ideas we see can be a practical solution ” to a climate problem. “he notes, that the program, at its core, is “seeding an entire cleantech ecosystem ”

When asked how funding such an incubator impacts a Wells Fargo employee, Mr. Huntley states that while employees aren’t often directly working with the incubator, it doubles as an engagement opportunity and helps employees share with clients “How Wells Fargo is directly supporting innovation, particularly in support of sustainability .” In these times, where climate change is becoming a problem on everyone’s minds, such words work to give comfort to clients and help spread the ideas of sustainability to the general populace.

Business benefit

There are layers to the business benefit. For the companies themselves, the Wells Fargo website notes that the companies, all together, have raised over $262 million in follow-up funding during and after they graduate the program. In other words, for every $1 given by the incubator, the average cohort company has raised $28 in additional funding. For the bank, there have been a myriad of new clients- the startup companies, lining up for lending or equity.

From an SDG perspective, there are multiple boxes checked off. The incubator encourages partnerships (SDG 17) as companies link up with other businesses and benefit from their expertise, as well as partnerships between financial institutions such as Wells and technical institutions such as NREL and Danforth. Another SDG goal is SDG 7, as the companies within the incubator focus not just on cleantech, but energy efficiency, overlapping with SDG 11 in the creation of sustainable cities that are inclusive. Finally, by creating an incubator falling under cleantech and agriculture, the enterprise boldly seeks to solve SDG 13- the most vexing and system-oriented problem of all.

Social and environmental benefit

Individual startups include EnKoat, which produces a coating that effectively transforms walls and rooftops into insulation, and Aker, a crop diagnostics firm which creates a product focused on gauging the health of about 75 different crops by using drones and probes- allowing farmers to target where their pesticides need to go.

And it doesn’t stop there- the community is an important part of the IN2 solution. The incubator chooses companies that focus on cleantech solutions to the affordable housing crisis, especially regarding construction innovation and residential energy efficiency. Both aspects make housing less expensive to rent or purchase.

Currently, the environmental and social benefits are hard to calculate but by facilitating the process of getting these good ideas into a commercialization phase to solve society's most pressing problems they too will doubtless be considerable.

Citations:

“IN2 Debuts Cleantech Solutions to Affordable Housing Challenges.” Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2), 17 Dec. 2019, in2ecosystem.com/uncategorized/in2-debuts-cleantech-solutions-to-affordable-housing-challenges/.

Javorsky, Nicole. “Wells Fargo Incubator Grows Solutions to Tough Energy and Food Problems.” TheHill, 26 Nov. 2019, thehill.com/changing-america/sustainability/energy/472083-wells-fargo-incubator-grows-solutions-to-tough-energy.

Interview

Ramsay Huntley, Sustainable Finance Strategist

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Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator

Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator

San Fransico, California, US

Business Website: https://in2ecosystem.com/

Year Founded: 2014

Number of Employees: 2 to 10

Wells Fargo’s Innovation Incubator boasts a focus on climate change and societal problems while also filling the overall pipeline with innovative solutions. By helping sustainable startups push past the “Valley of Death” into commercial viability the incubator works towards SDG goals 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 13 (Climate Action), and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).