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Behind the Scenes with Nate Gorence, ARPA-E Tech-to-Market Advisor

November 29, 2016

Preparing early stage technologies to make the leap from lab to market is a key element of ARPA-E's mission. Every project team must compliment their technical work with rigorous go-to-market activities to assess and advance the commercial viability of their technology. ARPA-E’s Tech-to-Market (T2M) team assists in developing the knowledge, strategy, skills and team that performers need to expedite private-sector deployment of their technologies.

ARPA-E Tech-to-Market Advisors are commercialization experts that have a critical blend of technical, business, and entrepreneurial experience that they draw upon to prepare project teams and technologies that are too early for private sector development for commercial success.

Hear from Tech-to-Market Advisor Nate Gorence about what being on the ARPA-E T2M team is like: 

Nate GorenceNate Gorence has been a Technology-to-Market Advisor at ARPA-E since 2014 and focuses primarily on working with America’s best innovators to bring advanced energy technologies to market. Previously, Gorence worked as Associate Director for an energy project at a leading think tank in Washington, D.C. While there, Gorence directed various aspects of strategy, research design, analysis, policy development, and advocacy related to a broad range of energy and environmental issues. His primary focus was developing better policy and financing levers to improve the country’s energy innovation ecosystem and to bring advanced energy technologies to market. Gorence also worked at an investment firm that brought leading energy corporations together to invest in and commercialize the industry's most promising market-ready innovations. Gorence began his career at Epic Systems Corp. He holds a MBA from Yale University and an A.B. from Dartmouth College.

1. Tell us a little about your background. How does your previous experience provide insight into your work at ARPA-E?

My career arc has been multidisciplinary, which, I believe, has served me quite well at ARPA-E. I started as a project manager for a rapidly growing software company. I then spent almost six years at a leading think tank where I worked with many of the leading experts, thinkers and practitioners to improve the security, efficiency and environmental impacts of our country’s energy system. This job was invaluable to understanding the key levers—innovation, finance and policy—that drive change to our energy system.  I also received exposure to a wide range of energy technologies—from nuclear to advanced vehicles, from carbon capture and storage to distributed generation. Because the U.S. energy landscape is so diverse and different energy industries face completely different challenges, the ability to deeply explore multiple technologies, industries, and the interplay among them has been quite valuable to commercializing early-stage innovations. 

At a high level, I describe my job at ARPA-E as part strategy consultant, part entrepreneurial coach, and part business development expert. The managerial, finance, and strategy skills I gained in business school complimented my energy-sector expertise in a way that makes me a better resource and coach for my project teams. 

Overall, energy transformation is about technology, capital, and policy.  I think my exposure to all those facets has given me a fantastic platform to succeed at ARPA-E. 

Nate and Bryan

Photo: Tech-to-Market Advisor Nate Gorence and former Program Director Bryan Willson examining an in-field dual frequency comb prototype for methane emissions detection that is part of the MONIITOR University of Colorado, Boulder project.

2. How did you first learn about ARPA-E and what drew you to become a Tech-to-Market advisor? 

I first learned of ARPA-E when I was working on energy innovation policy issues. I worked with several early employees of ARPA-E to learn more about their unique model of innovation and tried to bring specific attributes of ARPA-E’s model to other parts of the federal energy innovation system. I was such a fan that I recommended one of my best friends, who was completing his doctorate in biochemical engineering, to apply.  He actually became the first ARPA-E Fellow! Flash forward three years: I continued to follow the amazing work that ARPA-E was doing, and when I was finishing my MBA, I got a great offer from the former Acting Director, Cheryl Martin, to join the Tech-to-Market team. After that, I signed on in the summer of 2014 for my three-year term. 

I was drawn to ARPA-E for two main reasons. First, as an Agency, we have invested on average between $200-250 million per year in America’s best innovators working on risky but potentially transformative energy ideas. No other entity—public or private—is investing in the ideas ARPA-E does. To influence and manage part of that investment portfolio and have the ability to fundamentally change our energy trajectory for the better is nothing short of awesome. If you are passionate about energy innovation, there is no better perch in the entire country to see new technical advances and spawn new energy products. 

Second, it is about the people. The Agency draws the best and brightest technical and entrepreneurial minds to join the public sector for a term-limited appointment. When you combine the urgency of a term-limited job with some of the smartest people in the country, the result is an inspiring, creative and impactful organization. In addition to great staff, ARPA-E attracts equally brilliant early-stage innovators to fund. The chance to actively work with the country’s best innovators—from start-ups, universities and elsewhere—is an amazing experience and something that inspires me every day. 

Nate Gorence 2015 Summit Panel

Photo: Tech-to-Market Advisor Nate Gorence moderates a panel on “Lessons Learned in Technology Development: Finding Funding Beyond ARPA-E” at the 2015 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit.

3. What has been the most interesting or challenging part of being a Tech-to-Market advisor?

There are certainly many interesting parts of the job. One of the most remarkable is the ability to explore new technical pathways that will significantly impact our energy system over the coming decades. ROOTS, for instance, is a program that I co-created that aims to develop imaging technologies and sensors that can examine the architecture and physiology of plant roots in the field in a high-throughput fashion. It may not sound that groundbreaking (pun intended), but, when these technologies are combined with analytic modeling tools, they have the potential to unlock ways to selectively breed for attributes like carbon sequestration, drought tolerance, and nutrient use efficiency in ways that we have never had in the history of agriculture. I think that’s cool.

One of the most challenging aspects of the job is bridging the gap between R&D and early products. To be blunt, creating and scaling new products in energy is incredibly hard and there is a graveyard of failed efforts. The risks, scale, capital requirements, time horizons, and market dynamics of energy stack the deck against early energy technologies. However, with the right team, it can be done. Although I know that a number of our teams will not make it to market, the ones that succeed will have an outsized impact. Trying to get multiple projects to that goal is what gets me up in the morning and keeps me motivated.  

4. What impact do you hope to have on ARPA-E? On the broader energy challenge?

I hope to have a big impact on ARPA-E and an even bigger impact on the energy landscape. Internally, I try to challenge my colleagues to make the Agency more nimble, more experimental and more effective. More generally, the reason I came to ARPA-E is to shape the world’s energy future. I hope to look back 20 years from now and say, “Wow, the work that I did at ARPA-E changed the world.” I think my portfolio has the ability to make the world’s energy system more productive and cleaner, and I’m excited to make that a reality in the year that I have left at ARPA-E!


Interested in learning more about becoming an ARPA-E Tech-to-Market Advisor? Click here to view more information and application requirements