Where some entrepreneurs may see opportunities for innovation in the energy industry, leaders of Ameren, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a local accelerator program, Capital Innovators, see a chance to attract them to St. Louis.
At the Cortex Innovation Community in the city’s Central West End, those entities announced a new partnership Friday called the Ameren Accelerator program that will “assess, mentor and invest in energy technology startup companies.”
Through the arrangement, a fresh batch of five to seven startup companies will each be given $100,000 in seed capital in every year of the three-year program. The money will be granted by Ameren, which, along with UMSL, will provide mentorship and expertise to the companies as they complete a 12-week summer accelerator program run by Capital Innovators. At the end of the process, the startups will pitch their technology to potential outside investors.
For Ameren, it’s an opportunity to expose its own employees to innovation while also leaving open the possibility of buying or licensing the technologies that emerge. Company representatives were hesitant to identify specific areas they may be interested in pursuing through the program, aiming to leave it up to innovators to decide what technologies may eventually be applied to the utility and its customer base.
“We’re taking a pretty broad view,” said Ameren CEO and President Warner Baxter, who is also an UMSL alumnus.
But Baxter and other speakers at Friday’s event did mention a few obvious areas of interest, including grid-scale batteries for energy storage, opportunities related to distributed energy such as solar power, and digital technologies to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the existing grid.
UMSL students will also be eligible for paid internships — and course credit — through involvement with the startups.
“We’ve got a growing capability of programs and offerings for students that we haven’t imagined yet,” said Dan Lauer, who spearheads the UMSL Accelerate program. Lauer said it was the first time energy had ever been the entrepreneurial focus of a university and a top accelerator.
Online applications for the accelerator program opened Friday and are open until May 12. Chosen startups will then be awarded their funding and support in July, with the “Demo Day” for showcasing their work and courting investors taking place in October.
During the process, the startups will be based in the CIC@4240 Building in Cortex.
After completing their time with the accelerator, the companies can go anywhere. But Lauer observed that they tended to stay in the area.
“Ninety percent of Capital Innovators [participants] have stayed,” Lauer said. “The desire is clearly to have economic development happen in Missouri, in St. Louis.”