SBA powers up Illinois Smart Grid Cluster


More reliable electricity, better energy efficiency and new jobs could be coming to the Chicago area, thanks to a collaborative effort to develop a Smart Grid Regional Innovation Cluster that has received new funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

With a $600,000 contract from the SBA announced Sept. 20, the Illinois Smart Grid Cluster takes a position of national leadership, said Matthew Summy, president of the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition, a statewide economic development agency that is collaborating with Illinois Institute of Technology, which received the SBA award. “Others are saying, `Illinois is on to something. Let’s put some resources together and help them grow it,'” Summy said.

IIT also is working with the Clean Energy Trust and O-H Community Partners to accelerate small business development of Smart Grid technology.  Ultimately, the Smart Grid Cluster aims to develop ways to  update electric grids to improve reliability and optimize the use of energy from traditional and renewable sources, Summy said.

With Smart Grid projected to be a $170 billion global market by 2014, it is expected to create 186,000 jobs, Summy said. “Our goal is not just to capture our fair share for Illinois, but a super share,” he said.  “We can do that by being first to market and a place where these innovative ideas come together.”

So far, the Illinois Smart Grid Cluster has been operating with intellectual capital and a $100,000 seed grant from the state of Illinois, Summy said. The new contract, which is renewable, “will allow us to accelerate this work.” The cluster hopes to pinpoint to the entrepreneurial community where the greatest needs are, providing the necessary intelligence for those interested in starting or funding businesses, Summy said.

While the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition will identify appropriate Smart Grid projects, IIT will provide technical support through its IIT Perfect Power smart microgrid and access to faculty at its Wanger Institute for Sustainable Energy Research, while the university’s Stuart School of Business will direct business support for early-stage smart grid companies. The Clean Energy Trust, which recently received $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, will provide access to venture capital and connect buyers and seller of technology. O-H Community Partners will identify and support minority-owned businesses seeding to participate in the Smart Grid cluster.

The Illinois Smart Grid Regional Innovation Cluster was one of 10 clusters to receive SBA contracts. By clustering resources for small businesses, they gain a competitive edge to compete on a global scale, said SBA Administrator Karen Mills. Ultimately, the cluster format is designed to “help small businesses flourish and drive innovation,” creating jobs in the process, Mills said.