By Nick Zieminski and Dave Zimmerman
General Electric Co and its venture capital partners will invest a further $63 million in 10 clean-energy start-up ventures, the largest U.S. conglomerate said on Thursday.
The investments, in areas such as solar thermal systems and LED lighting, are part of GE's ongoin g "ecomagination challenge," a program that reviews thousands of start-ups' business plans for possible funding. Much of the technology is focused on reducing energy use in the home, or on better communication between energy users and utilities.
The investments are aimed at helping innovative technology reach a commercial stage earlier. To that end, GE will partner with the world's largest consumer electronics chain, Best Buy Co Inc, the companies said.
"We're going to fast-track them from the idea stage to store shelves," said Beth Comstock, GE's chief marketing officer.
Energy-reducing products, such as a home energy control device and a solar air conditioning control system, will be available at Best Buy stores in 2012. A GE product to monitor home electricity use, "Nucleus," will be sold later this year.
GE said its investments typically involve taking an equity stake in the start-up companies. One of GE's initial 2010 investments, in Ireland-based smart-grid company FMC-Tech, led GE to buy the company this month. It declined to disclose the purchase price but said that deal would close next month.
GE, the world's largest maker of electric turbines, is working with venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield, RockPort Capital, Foundation Capital and Emerald Technology Ventures.
So far, GE and its partners have allocated about $134 million out of a planned $200 million in funding for start-ups working on commercial products to reduce energy use.
Among the 10 start-ups winning GE funding are Ember, a Boston communications and software company; Austin-based Nuventix and Manchester, England-based VPhase, which both make building efficiency systems; and WiTricity, a communications and software company in Watertown, Massachusetts.
The partners will also award $100,000 feed grants to five winners of an innovation contest for ideas such as windows that collect solar energy.
GE said it plans to launch a similar innovation challenge in China in coming months that would extend beyond clean-technology start-ups to areas like healthcare and aviation.
GE shares were down 1.7 percent on Thursday at $18.24.
Article courtesy of reuters.com