ARPA-E Acting Director Jennifer Gerbi discusses high-risk, high-reward investments

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The Agency for Advanced Research Projects-Energy funds high-risk, high-reward projects based on the importance and urgency of the problems they aim to solve, Jennifer Gerbi, acting director of ARPA-E, said in an interview that aired Wednesday.

Appearing on the news show Government Matters, Gerbi discussed the agency detailed selection process, which involves various levels of internal and external reviews and authorized administrators.

Gerbi gave an overview of his two funding models. The focused model involves an individual manager “who decides what problem to solve and why”. This model also involves pressure testing ideas at multiple points before they are pitched to the agency.

The open model, on the other hand, is conducted every three years to allow a wider range of applicants to submit proposals as long as they are aligned with the agency’s mission. This model “allows us to [discover] areas we had no idea existed, or solutions in a space where we don’t have focused models,” Gerbi explained. ARPA-E also offers grants to small business innovation research start-ups through its Open Door program.

Once the project is awarded, ARPA-E has “substantial involvement” with the teams, performing quarterly reviews of project milestones and work plans. It also helps identify a first market to help new and obscure technologies advance, Gerbi told Government Matters.

ARPA-E was founded in 2009 and has since funded over 1,000 energy efficiency, resilience and sustainability projects. The agency has recently invested in carbon neutral building proposals and battery enhancement technology.

Gerbi noted that the return on investment in ARPA-E is seen in “technologies that exist now that didn’t exist before and are moving forward.”

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