ARPA-E and DARPA - Applying the DARPA Model to Energy Innovation

  • ARPA-E created in 2007 and funded in 2009 …
  • ARPA-E funded under 2009 stimulus act
  • “Street level bureaucracies”
  • Long term, multigenerational thrust areas
  • DARPA has repeatedly launched related technologies that complement each other, and which help build support for the commercialization or implementation of each. DARPA works on programs that go against the established paradigm
  • “Problem solving” business instead of “thing” business
  • Single innovations rarely solve a problem
  • ::What does “companies coming together in a value add way” actually look like?::
  • DARPA arguably created the niche outside of IBMs game
  • If DARPA had not been available, university researchers would have had to use ‘free’ equipment from companies like Digital and IBM to do their research. DARPA funding of research was essential in providing an ability to make independent choices.Vinod Khosla 1991
  • VCs and DARPA became symbiotic in the IT sector
  • DARPA commercialization failures ::why did they fail?::
    • High definition display program
    • Thinking Machine - Connection machine parallel processing computer
    • Gallium Arsenide computer chips
  • DARPA takes on incumbents
    • ::Is this another reason not to be a normal org - can’t be bought out?::
  • DARPA and DOD were initial customers of many IT systems
    • Sun
  • Having a high up ally who can support paradigm shifts is still important
  • Unabashed technology push
    • ::“Make something people want … eventually”::
  • As the opportunity creator, DARPA has, in many instances, developed a new capability up to a technology demonstration and then found that the potential recipients—either in the military or commercial environments—are not ready or interested to take them further
  • DARPA constantly works to avoid congressional earmarks through narrative
  • Strong office directors are important - XP in field, management
    • This has shifted towards strong director and weak office director
  • Weak demand pull can make handoffs bad
  • When people want to “leave their mark” it can be problematic
  • DARPA can be weak on transition

ARPA-E A New R&D Model for the department of energy

  • ARPA-E Funding: $180m - 1 DARPA office
  • Six areas in 2011
    • Carbon Capture
    • Microogranism based biofuels
    • Ultra high density low cost batteries
    • Power electronics
    • Grid scale storage
    • More efficient cooling technology
  • 8 PMs in 2011
  • “Although ARPA-E uses strong expert reviews to guide PM decisions”
  • ARPA-E’s design is metrics driven
  • Steven Chu originally set up arpa e
  • Shooting for a 1/20 commercialization rate
  • Harder to launch new energy technologies than military technologies
  • ARPE-E lets people respond to reviews of their applications to try to get around problems with the Peer review process
  • ARPAE has 5 recent PhDs supporting each PM
  • Porfolio/Risk mix of projects
  • DOE has a ton of different tech departments and ARPAE spend a bunch of time politicking with them
  • Energy forums to bring together vc’s etc ::did this work?::
  • ARPAE considers implementation before they embark on a technology
    • ::Wouldn’t this kill otherwise awesome things?::
  • DOE doesn’t have internal customers the way that DoD does
  • ARPAE tried ‘selling’ into DoD ::how did that go?::
  • Commercialization team
  • most early generation energy technologies are component technologies, and will have to fit into existing systems and platforms controlled by existing companies
  • Need to slot technologies into stage-gate (secretly waterfall) industry practice
  • ARPAE tries to Create consortia ::What is a consortium actually?::
  • ARPAE is authorized to issue prizes ::Have they issued prizes?::
  • DoD has a four step system from breakthrough to market creation that works fairly well, although not always smoothly. Contrast to energy ::Frontier tech has bespoke sales channels::
  • DARPA launches technology in three ways DARPA has a mixed record on transitioning
    1. Military procurement
    2. Established industry
    3. Entrepreneur/VC model
      1. ::Doesn’t this also depend on military procurement?::
  • Most DARPA transitions to military have been difficult
    • Most DoD platforms and systems are massive undertakings
      • Only 787 is comparable
      • ::is there any software with 787 complexity? iPhone?::
    • DoD uses the same systems for decades
    • DoD systems are built by third parties vs industry
  • Industry will start something and pull back, while once DoD is in they’re all in for better or worse
  • Keeps stating that DAPRA innovates in “new” sectors ::Where else besides computing? Isn’t everything an older sector until its a new sector?::
  • DARPA looking at new manufacturing technology because military superiority depends on ability to manufacture
  • Building sector, for example, will not adopt technologies until they are well-proven
  • Testbeds are important for proving out technology
  • ::Does energy have fewer niches than other industries?::
  • Valley of death is separate from “market launch” at scale







  • William Bonvillian
  • Richard Van Atta


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