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The Startup Act Has Promising Implications for Clean Energy Innovation

Last December, U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Mark Warner (D-VA) unveiled the Startup Act. At the time, Senator Warner described the bipartisan legislation as including “new tools that will renew the focus on tech startups and help unleash the next wave of American entrepreneurs.” Although the bill has slowly been making its way through committee, it received renewed media attention last week when Senator Moran went to the South by Southwest festival to drum-up support. Given the continued economic recession, it is not surprising that the Startup Act has thus far been mostly promoted as a potential job creator. Nevertheless, the bill actually has several provisions that would greatly benefit the national clean energy innovation agenda.

Specifically, the Startup Act would create a new “STEM Visa” with permanent resident status for up to 50,000 foreign students who graduate from an American university with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, provided they remain active in one of those fields. Another 75,000 “Entrepreneur’s Visas” would be extended to immigrant entrepreneurs who create businesses. The bill would therefore go a long way in retaining the kind of brain power and talent vital to advancing the clean energy economy, as discussed in a previous blog post. It helps answer the call for high-skill immigration reform as laid out in an ITIF report, “Global Forms of Talent: Benchmarking the United States”, and by ITIF Senior Analyst Stephen Ezell in 2009.

The act also has an interesting section on facilitating the commercialization of university-based research. A small portion of existing federal R&D funds would be redirected to a new U.S. Commerce Department program that would award grants to universities to move promising technologies from the research stage to market. Grant eligibility would be determined by a committee of university stakeholders, business leaders, and technology transfer experts. On paper, the program seems like a promising way to help bridge the unfortunate valley of death that tends to prevent new technologies in general and new clean energy technologies in particular from reaching commercialization.

Although Senators Moran and Warner may not have had clean energy in mind when they wrote the Startup Act, there is no question that the bill could prove beneficial to the national environment for clean energy innovation. In fact, Senator Moran might as well have been speaking specifically to clean energy innovators when he talked about the bill at South by Southwest: “We’ve become a country that is often risk averse. That’s not the way to succeed…My goal is not to create a circumstance in which no one fails, but one in which many will succeed.”

Photo credit: Website of U.S. Senator Mark Warner 

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