Michigan has an exciting future ahead of it in the area of advanced battery technology and alternative energy. Knut Simonsen, president of DTE Energy Ventures, notes that the state received 60 percent of the federal stimulus money available for this sector. “I think it was driven in large part by the state’s real commitment around incentives for that industry six to 12 months prior to that,” he said. “That allowed for a lot of the companies to put initial roots down in the state, and really be prepared for that ultimate funding request from the federal government, to be very well positioned to win the money.
“DTE right now is very much focused around energy efficiency, renewable technologies, supporting energy storage – particularly here in the Detroit area with plug-in hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles. We’re very much trying to encourage battery technologies, help get the technology to market and help get the pricing down.”
Battery leaders like Midland-based Dow Kokem, Ann Arbor-based Sakti3, and the Livonia-based A123 Systems Automotive Solutions Group are putting Michigan on the map when it comes to the next generation of alternative vehicle energy. “It is just incredibly rewarding to see that starting to play out,” said Simonsen. “It’s still the early days of the broader plug-in electric vehicle, in terms of launching the ultimate product, but hopefully the U.S., and particularly Michigan, can be on the leading edge of helping create a new industry. This is one of the real success stories here in Michgan, in start-ups as well as clean tech more broadly.”
DTE Energy Ventures invested in A123 before the company went public. The energy giant’s investment arm focuses on initial investments of between $2 – 5 million per company, with the potential for additional rounds adding up to $15 million. It recently committed to an investment in Huron River Ventures, an early-stage fund targeting clean tech investment in Michigan. “One of the reasons we invested in the Huron River Ventures team was to get more early, mid-stage venture backable companies here in the state,” said Simonsen. “We try to encourage stuff that is very promising – in less than a five year window, we could see it being a real commercial product.”
DTE Energy Ventures has a long-standing relationship with the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium. “Events like this are really critical to create that eco-system that encourages a start-up culture, that allows universities to think about what is taking their research to the next level of scientific work,” said Simonsen.