Warren energy incubator seeks funding help from port authority
By Ed Runyan
The Western Reserve Port Authority’s economic- development committee has recommended to the full board that it provide $25,000 in support to the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center.
First the committee got an update from TBEIC’s chief executive, Dave Nestic, and its board chairman, John Pogue, about what the high-tech center does and how it is funded.
Its 37,000-square-foot building on Courthouse Square has been operational since March 2015, but it has been helping energy-related entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio and serving as a “focal point for technology managers and executives” for three years before that, Nestic said.
It started taking on tenant companies in April 2015 and now has six of them, though it works with about 50 companies. Energy storage is one of the most-popular areas of interest.
There’s room at the center for 15 tenants, and two grants totaling $500,000 will allow TBEIC to begin acquiring equipment to start its technology lab, he said.
Not all the tenants are energy-related. The most recent is a nonprofit called Game Changers that supports character-building for area high-school athletes. “We’re an energy-technology incubator, but because we’re central to the community and we’re downtown, we’re also open to nonenergy operations,” Nestic said.
Its goal is “to be the No. 1 tech-based energy economic-development organization” in Ohio. Nestic expects it to be for startups “and people in the industry that need a place to go to test and try out equipment.”
Tenants in business incubators usually start with a couple of employees and reach a number of about seven workers, plus “spin-off” employment, Nestic and others said.
Nestic described several ways that state and federal funding is acquired for energy development, such as the state’s Third Frontier program.
Several organizations contribute funds to operate the center, including First Energy, $100,000; city of Warren, $50,000; Wean Foundation $50,000; and another $100,000 from several other foundations. That equals $300,000, but the center needs about $460,000 or $470,000 to operate more effectively, Pogue said.
The problem with TBEIC’s funding is it is “lumpy,” Pogue said. “I go the first four months of the year with no money, and then in April I get $150,000. The problem is if I have a salaried employee, how do I pay them?
“What we’re looking for is some sustained regular sort of funding, which is why we are coming to you,” Pogue said. “What we’d like is a commitment from you for $25,000 per year for three or four years.”
Pogue said that when the lab is operational, it will provide a “great source of revenue because companies will come in and test 24/7 to get an idea to see if it will hold up onto the grid.” Pogue said he thinks the center is “at the cusp of putting this together. We just need a little stronger, sustainable funding.”