Startups Compete for the Free Electrons Global Energy Accelerator Grand Prize in Singapore

SINGAPORE – swissnex San Francisco’s sustainability team is in Singapore this week for the third and final module of the inaugural edition of the Free Electrons global energy accelerator program. Free Electrons is the world’s first accelerator program backed by an international consortium of utilities and co-created with group of clean energy accelerators. With the goal of helping utilities innovate and startups scale internationally, the program has global ambitions to accelerate the clean energy transition.

The first cohort of 12 energy startups are in Singapore with the eight participating utility members to get their deal negotiations across the finish line. They are also competing for a grand prize of $175,000 to be awarded on Thursday, September 21 during a gala demo day hosted by local utility member Singapore Power. The cash prize will be awarded to the world’s “most innovative energy startup” based on engagement in the program, number of deals, and disruptive, scalable innovation potential.

At the commencement of this final week, there are already 14 deals signed and at least another eight in the pipeline for signature by week’s end, while another 20 or so are in less advanced stages of discussion. With an original goal of getting at least five signed pilots by the end of the six-month program, the success of this unique global collaboration seems imminent.

While the focus of the program is on signing pilots and other kinds of commercial engagements between startups and utilities, an unexpected phenomenon has emerged. Based on the strong cohort bonding encouraged by the program managers, including swissnex San Francisco, and accelerator partners in the program, startups are actively discussing ways to develop new products together and collaborate on pilots that can occupy a larger part of the value chain than any startup could perform on its own.

For example, Swiss startup DEPsys is in talks with a handful of other startups in the program to see how they can collaborate on and fund a microgrid pilot that would demonstrate the value of their low voltage grid management system along with capabilities for generation, security, IoT and customer engagement technologies provided by other startups in the program including EthosGen (USA), Aperio (Israel), Greencom (Germany), DataGlen (India), and Climote (Ireland). And that is just one example of the unexpected collaborations that have emerged between startups in the course of the five-month program.

Give it a little longer and these ambitious startups just might find a way to form a brand new kind of distributed utility. And while that may seem like a threat to the utilities backing the program, that is exactly why they joined forces to co-create this program in the first place. As Steve Jobs famously realized, you need to disrupt yourself before your competitors do.



Photo: Andrew Chang