One of the great things about innovation is that it can happen anywhere. For proof, look no further than Warren, Ohio, home to Brite Energy Innovators — a federally funded business incubator that aims to grow energy technologies and allied products.
Warren might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of cutting-edge energy technology. The northeastern Ohio city is probably best known for a once-thriving steel industry that fell on hard times in recent decades. But it was in Warren that Brite Energy got its start a decade ago.
Since then, Brite has provided a home to 19 tenant companies at its location in downtown Warren’s Courthouse Square. It has also helped more than 250 companies grow, contributed to the creation of nearly 500 jobs, and secured almost $250 million in investments.
BRITE is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that offers consultation services to startups and small and medium-sized enterprises. It provides lab space and equipment for device testing, research and development, office space, and coworking memberships.
The incubator’s primary mission is to help entrepreneurs launch energy technology solutions by providing support, guidance, and connections. Companies affiliated with Brite mainly focus on technologies related to energy storage and efficiency. The incubator has an energy lab where companies can test their devices – everything from batteries and controllers to the Internet of Things – and then report results.
Brite moved into its downtown Warren location in 2015, when the incubator was still known as the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center or TBEIC. It rebranded as Brite Energy Innovators in September 2019 to better reflect its mission.
In a March 21 column for Cleveland.com, Brite Founder, President, and CEO Rick Stockburger called energy sector innovation “one of the true engines of America’s economy.” Lately, he said, much of that innovation involves clean energy, which is why you’ll find Brite working with companies that specialize in solar energy, energy efficiency, renewable hydrogen technology, and related areas.
One of Stockburger’s main goals now is to help these companies get more federal funding to help them compete with companies in other parts of the world.
“If we don’t ramp up investments now, the United States will flounder in the global clean-tech race, especially as the European Union and China double down on their own ambitious climate targets and scale up government investments in clean energy technology and innovation,” Stockburger wrote.
To that end, he recently co-signed a letter organized by the national, nonpartisan business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) and sent it to federal lawmakers – including Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican whose district lies just west of Warren; Rep. Tim Ryan, a Warren-area Democrat who helped secure initial funding for Brite a decade ago; and Ohio Sens. Rob Portman, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat.
“We know the value of putting federal dollars toward loans and grants for innovation,” Stockburger wrote. “And we know federal loans and grants after the 2008 financial crisis helped get nearly 500 companies off the ground and re-energized thousands more.”
The letter must have worked. In April, Ryan announced $1.2 million grants to both Brite and the Cleveland-based Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET). Brite’s grant was for $571,355 and is expected to create 200 jobs, retain 150 jobs, and generate $100 million in private investment. The project will be matched with $155,699 in local funds.