ARPA-E Q&A Blog Rakesh Radhakrishnan

Life at ARPA-E: Experiences of an ARPA-E Technology-to-Market Advisor

With Dr. Rakesh Radhakrishnan

Dr. Rakesh Radhakrishnan has served as Technology-to-Market (T2M) Advisor at ARPA-E since early 2019 and will be completing his tenure in May 2024. During his tenure, he has worked on several key programs and T2M operational initiatives that support the agency’s mission.

What attracted you to the role of an ARPA-E Technology to Market Advisor?

I began my career at United Technologies Research Center in the early 2000s, shortly after receiving my PhD from Virginia Tech. Early on in my industrial career, I worked on a variety of “high risk, high reward” technology development projects, including fuel cells, renewable energy, and high-efficiency HVAC systems, to name a few. Prior to proposing any new research project, our team was required to put together a business case that justified the investment of corporate dollars into the initiative. This was a crash course on the importance of weaving T2M elements into projects from the outset, to ensure that technology breakthroughs deliver the desired market impact. I then spent a decade of my career transitioning from technically focused roles to commercially focused roles in consulting and for a leading energy major. The journey helped me understand how non-technical functions such as business development, finance, sales and marketing, legal, and beyond play critical roles in transitioning a technology from the lab to the market. Once I had completed this journey, the T2M Advisor role at ARPA-E, with its broad mission, unique operating model, and myriad interesting technology development programs was a natural fit for my next career move.

How do ARPA-E T2M Advisors contribute to the ARPA-E mission?

The key questions asked within ARPA-E as we invest in breakthrough energy technologies is; “If it works…. will it matter?”. The core job of T2M Advisors is to answer the question “How can we make the technology matter in the marketplace?”. When we launch our new technology programs, we work closely with our Program Directors and Fellows to generate the investment theses for the programs. We then help in the selection of projects and work closely with our technical experts and the selected teams to deliver the desired impact. Our part in active project management is to ensure that teams are rigorous in the development and execution of their T2M – i.e., technology commercialization – plans.

What are some of the highlights from your journey at ARPA-E?

My first highlight was in my very first week at ARPA-E, attending a workshop on nuclear fission that is now the GEMINA program.  I have been able to work on a broad range of interesting programs during my tenure here, including distributed generation (INTEGRATEGENSETS), additive manufacturing (HITEMMP) and artificial intelligence/machine learning (DIFFERENTIATE). I also helped in the launch of our programs in carbon neutral aviation (REEACHASCENDCABLES) and datacenter efficiency (COOLERCHIPS). I was also able to the lead the team that through the selection process of our SCALEUP 2021 cohort and have been involved in supporting some of the teams that are in the later stages of their technology commercialization efforts.  I conclude my tenure with a final highlight,a Quantum for Energy Applications workshop that I helped organize.  Additionally, simply learning from the several programs in nuclear, agriculture, mining, maritime, industrial, building efficiency, and other technical focus areas being pursued by my talented colleagues has been a highlight. Finally, I have had the opportunity to represent the agency and the DOE at several industry conferences such as CERA Week, Datacenter World etc.

How has the T2M role evolved during your tenure at the agency?

One of the core questions I received when I began at ARPA-E is “What does a T2M Advisor do?”. I believe we have taken significant steps in implementing an operating model that integrates seamlessly with the technology development activities undertaken by the organization.  Defining and clarifying the role of T2M through the full ARPA-E project/program lifecycle was a first step. The team now plays an important role in program formation by providing market insights that inform commercial targets (e.g. IRR, $/kwh etc.) that must be forecasted by project teams. During program execution, the requirements for the T2M plan have been more clearly defined so that the teams can track their Commercial Readiness Level (CRL) while progressing on the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale. The creation of a set-aside budget for T2M plus-ups and the SCALEUP program that can support the more promising teams to further advance the commercialization of their technologies were also important enhancements to the T2M operating model. Finally, putting together an external engagement model for stakeholders (e.g., entrepreneurs, government, investors, incubators and accelerators, corporations) helped us better connect our teams to future partners and funding streams necessary for success. We have implemented this engagement model by organizing regional outreach events with state energy agencies, incubators etc., and also increasing the T2M focused activities at our annual summit.  I encourage those interested in learning more to check out the Technology-to-Market section on the ARPA-E website and talk to anyone on our team for further insights.

What’s next and how has the ARPA-E experience positioned you for the future?

I plan to continue supporting commercialization efforts for teams in the energy transition and climate tech space, that have been funded by early-stage venture firms. I also intend to pursue my other passion, supporting continuing education efforts for those looking to contribute to global energy transition efforts. I would say that my tenure at ARPA-E has exceeded expectations and prepared me well to pursue these future career aspirations.