Commercialization grants boost the chances of cleantech startups

The team at Trillium Fiber Fuels used funding from the Oregon BEST commercialization program to make the transition to independent business.

The team at Trillium Fiber Fuels used funding from the Oregon BEST commercialization program to make the transition to independent business.

Trillium FiberFuels Inc. formed to create ethanol from cellulose derived from wheat and ryegrass.

The six-person Corvallis firm is a long way from commercializing its ethanol research. But last month, it launched a small, online business to sell research materials after it discovered it could produce for a fraction of what the major suppliers charge.

Trillium, launched in 2006, depends on grants to fuel its research, with the ultimate goal of taking its products to the commercial market in the future. Its research material business is a happy byproduct of its entrepreneurial spirit and in a small way will help it remain in business while it pursues its dreams.

But make no mistake: Grants and public support drive the company and account for more than 90 percent of its budget.

“We would not exist without grant money to do the initial development. But I am trying to move the company toward a balance,” said Chris Beatty, co-founder and president.

The state of Oregon, through a program run the Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center (or Oregon BEST), is a key source of funds.

Trillium was one of four Oregon firms to split $250,000 in 2011 when Oregon BEST inaugurated a new commercialization program. The program expands this year as it awards an additional $1 million. Last fall, it hired engineer and serial entrepreneur Ken Vaughn to manage the commercialization program and staffed it with two half-time entrepreneurs-in-residence to coach its companies.

The commercialization program is funded by the Oregon Innovation Council, which is in turn funded by the Oregon Lottery. Federal grants also support the commercialization program.

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