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Acting Secretary Blank Highlights Competitions As a Tool For Improving American Competitiveness

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This morning, Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank spoke before the Department of Energy’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition. The competition is part of the Obama administration's Startup America Initiative, the White House campaign to inspire and promote entrepreneurship. Launched in December 2011, the National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition included six regional competitions that served as platforms for college students to present business plans that transform great clean energy ideas into great businesses. The goal of building regional networks of student-focused businesses, as well as its inclusion of corporate leaders in the clean energy and venture capital sectors, builds squarely on existing partnerships with the Department of Commerce to spur domestic innovation and entrepreneurship.

Blank told the audience, which included the six regional winning teams, that the key to America’s success is innovation. . . new products, new processes, new ways of thinking.  Since the 1940s, over two-thirds of America’s economic growth has been directly related to increased productivity due to innovationthat’s both new products and new production processes.

Dr. Blank applauded entrepreneurs, like the teams present, and recognized that they are the best source of new ideas. However, as a recent report by the Commerce Department, “The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States” shows, there are some things that the private sector cannot do. She noted five areas where the government plays a key role in ensuring American competitiveness. The government can provide more support for basic R&D, support the transfer of new technologies to the marketplace, modernize America’s infrastructure, protect the intellectual property of entrepreneurs, and produce a workforce with the necessary skills to compete globally.

Blank then urged more of what was happening at the National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, which ignites the competitive spirit of entrepreneurship that drives America’s prosperity. She highlighted another example that happened last year, when the Commerce Department, the Department of Energy, and others launched what’s called the “Innovation 6 Green Challenge.” Commerce awarded over $6 million to six winners to promote the commercialization of innovative green products. Because that was so successful, Commerce launched yet another round of the i6 Challenge yesterday. This challenge provides six more awards for establishing or expanding what’s called “Proof of Concept Centers” that will provide a range of innovation-based, high-growth entrepreneurial services. That includes business planning, support, mentoring, technology and market evaluation support, and help with early-stage access to capital.

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