Clean energy innovator & job creator wins 2018 Philanthropy Award

Jenny Flores
Posted by Jenny Flores
Corporate Social Responsibility

I’m pleased to share that the 2018 Bank of the West Philanthropy Award went to Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) for making innovative strides in helping reduce carbon emissions and create jobs for a clean energy economy.

Matt Petersen, LACI CEO holding the award, with Pierre Ramadier and Jenny Flores on either side.I recently had a great conversation with Matt Petersen, President and CEO of LACI, and the edited version is below. (Please be sure to watch the video at the end, which takes you inside LACI’s fantastic La Kretz Innovation Campus!)

Q: In the last six years you’ve worked with more than 70 companies involved in cleantech innovation. What kinds of problems are they trying to solve? A: The companies that LACI has had the good fortune of mentoring and supporting are developing real-world solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change and to create green jobs – especially in underserved communities in our region – to meet the needs of a growing cleantech economy.

LACI’s portfolio companies are working hard, for example, to improve water conservation, reduce single-use plastic, and improve the way we move people and goods.

Beyond helping start-ups launch innovative solutions in the marketplace, can you share the other ways you’re measuring LACI’s positive impact?

Since we were founded in 2011, LACI has helped 78 companies raise $221 million in funding, $220 million in revenue, create 1,750 jobs, and deliver more than $393 million in long-term economic value. We’ve hosted field trips with more than 500 students from across Los Angeles to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.

We’ll continue to assess and augment our impact in 2019, as our Advanced Prototyping Center (APC) Fellowship Program provides new cohorts of underrepresented and underemployed people from disadvantaged communities with workforce training and job placement opportunities, and our Founders’ Bridge Program provides business fundamentals for underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Can you tell us one success story of a company you’ve worked with?

Perception Robotics came to LACI as a spin-off of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2012, with new technology for robot “hands” that reduced the cost and increased the functionality of robot end-of-arm tooling functions. The core team had good leadership and technical skills but no startup business experience, and no physical laboratory. LACI provided Perception with prototyping facilities, office space, and advisors who had launched high-tech businesses in the past. LACI helped with hiring, fundraising, business-to-business contracting, and dealing with the emergent crises that every startup company faces.

One of the defining tenets of LACI’s mission is to create an inclusive green economy through fostering diversity and inclusion of women, people of color, and other underserved populations in the technology sector. Perception Robotics serves as a model for tech startups, with a female co-founder, Helena Yli-Renko, who also is a professor of clinical entrepreneurship at USC Marshall School of Business.

I’m so proud of this team – they designed and prototyped their “bio-inspired” grippers in LACI’s APC. In mid-2018, Perception merged with a well-funded European robotics company and is now part of a global organization, OnRobot.

LACI makes a strong effort to partner with both public and private entities — why is that important?

We believe that real change requires a committed, collaborative, integrated approach. Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator was founded as a public-private economic development initiative by the City of Los Angeles and the Department of Water & Power (LADWP). In partnership with the city’s exceptional research universities and a host of industry and economic development partners, LACI fosters innovation in clean technologies to drive the region’s growing green economy.

This fall, we convened the unprecedented Transportation Electrification Partnership, a groundbreaking coalition of regional leaders, including the California Air Resources Board, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, County of Los Angeles, LA Metro, LADWP, and Southern California Edison, to work together to meet an ambitious commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution an additional 25% beyond current commitments before the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Collaboration across the public and private industry spheres truly is essential to achieving LACI’s overarching mission of creating an inclusive, green economy in the LA region and beyond.

What do you think it would take for the LACI model to be replicated in other parts of the world?

What makes the LACI model a little different, and one of the reasons our organization is recognized as one of the most innovative business incubators in the world by UBI, is our “three pillar” strategy. We are creating an inclusive green economy by unlocking innovation (working with startups to accelerate the commercialization of clean technologies), transforming markets (through partnerships in transportation, energy and sustainable cities), and enhancing communities (through workforce development, pilots and other programs).

We are fortunate that California is leading the fight against climate change here in the U.S. Our economy is flourishing, while emissions continue to drop; and programs and initiatives from our state are being replicated around the world. People in a majority of nations are realizing that mitigating climate change is an urgent priority. For example, LA is part of a network of 96 cities around the world called C40 Cities that supports collaborative efforts to share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable, and sustainable action on climate change. C40 represents more than 700 million citizens and one-quarter of the global economy.

Learn more about LACI in this video: 


The annual Bank of the West Philanthropy Awards are just one component of the Bank’s corporate social responsibility approach which supports sustainable development through education and job training, affordable housing, microenterprise and small business development, environmental conservation, and the arts. Visit bankofthewest.com/change for more information.

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