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BRITE partners in international energy competition

WARREN — BRITE Energy Innovators is the first domestic energy and cleantech startup incubator to partner with an energy competition in Japan that helps early-stage companies in the sector get a foothold in one of the world’s largest electricity markets.

BRITE is recognized as a fast-track partner with the Japan Energy Challenge, co-founded and managed by Cortland native Paul Monroe, 29, who said challenge officials invited BRITE to partner given its network reach across Ohio and the Midwest.

Rick Stockburger, president / CEO of BRITE, said he sees six to eight of BRITE’s 30 portfolio companies applying to be part of the challenge. Because of BRITE’s partnership, those companies that apply will be given priority consideration over standard submissions.

“When they apply, they are fast tracked through it because they are associated with BRITE,” said Stockburger. “That means they get over the first hurdle of two or three hurdles. It certainly doesn’t guarantee them entry, but it certainly is helpful.”

Monroe is co-founder of London-based SMAP (Smart Meter Analytics Platform) Energy, a developer of software applications that track energy consumption data for utilities to operate more efficiently.

The energy challenge was born from SMAP when its Japanese clients began to ask which companies abroad they should be meeting with to get an edge on the competition.

The annual program picks 20 to 25 of the world’s best international energy companies from hundreds of applicants and helps them develop pilot projects with Japan’s largest energy companies.

The numbers are trimmed down at each stage by filtering the opportunities based on the level of sponsor interest, Monroe said. The final 20 to 25 companies typically have at least three sponsors interested in collaborating. This will happen in December.

The 14 sponsors of the challenge this year include some of the biggest companies in Japan, including Panasonic and Toyota.

For BRITE affiliated companies, inclusion is a huge opportunity to gain traction into one of the largest energy markets in the world.

“Companies who have participated in Japan Energy Challenge have gone on to receive pilot projects, sales partnerships, and investments worth millions of dollars in addition to gaining credibility and media attention in the Japanese market,” Monroe wrote in an email to the newspaper. “For BRITE companies, the program represents an opportunity to gain international exposure and highlight the opportunity the region has to offer.”

Participation also amplifies BRITE and what it can accomplish for member companies.

“The biggest thing companies in Ohio have to overcome is access to capital … access to capital is something we always struggled with, and access to customers, so the Japan Energy Challenge directly gives access to customers in the fourth largest energy market in the world,” Stockburger said. “This program along with others that we are involved in is to say from Warren, Ohio, you can start this company and we’ll give you access to international markets.”

Many of the target areas for this year’s competition are in line with BRITE’s tech focus, including electric vehicle infrastructure, microgrid technology, energy storage technology and smart buildings and manufacturing technology, Stockburger said.

Monroe, named earlier this year to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list in the manufacturing and industry category, was introduced to Stockburger and BRITE through Nick Santucci, a close friend who then worked for the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber. Monroe found BRITE while doing some research into energy startups in the U.S.

“It is important to me as the program organizer to ensure that we identify as many opportunities as possible, but it’s also my belief as a Trumbull County native that the area is underrepresented on the international stage,” Monroe wrote.

What he found was about 45 percent of the funding in the energy and sustainability sector went to North American companies with about 40 percent in Europe. But when Japanese companies started looking for external opportunities, their focus was Silicon Valley.

“From our perspective, they were overlooking over half of the market and the first editions of the Japan Energy Challenge were focused on featuring European companies so that their overall scouting could be more complete,” Monroe wrote.

With that focus successful, the challenge has grown to the point where it can encompass North America, “but the same principle of including areas that may not be featured as strongly in the international spotlight is a means of differentiating our program,” he wrote.

“Success will need to be earned in any case, but the foundation for this is there and we can show this through the JEC program,” Monroe wrote.

Last year’s challenge winners were companies that build “second-life” batteries from batteries recycled from electric vehicles, operate “virtual power plants” of small, distributed sources of energy generation and storage, develop smart electric vehicle charging hardware that can be remotely managed and controlled, and manufacture flexible, lightweight solar panels.

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