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GE Awards First Winners in Energy Start-Up Contest

Twelve companies receive $55 million in seed money for smart-grid technologies.

General Electric is looking for a few bright ideas, and theyre willing to shell out big money for them. The company awarded $55 million to a dozen companies in the first round of an expected $200 million that will go toward power grid technology startups over the next 18 months.

More investment dollars will flow in the coming weeks from GE, as it taps into new advances in energy storage, utility security, energy management software and electric vehicle charging services.

GE will put up an estimated $45 million in funding, while the rest will come from venture-capital firms Emerald Technology Partners, Foundation Capital, Rockport Capital, and Kleiner, Perkinsk, Caufield & Byers.

We like the power of ideas brought forward, said GE chief executive officer Jeffrey Immelt. We think this opportunity as a big company to work with small companies is only going to help us grow faster.

The first wave of winners centered on technologies relating to software and sensing, according to Immelt. Sentient Energy and FMC-Tech, for instance, developed a set of sensors to better manage energy flow and identify potential problems on the grid. SynapSense, meanwhile, has advanced energy-monitoring equipment for data centers.

Other winners include SustainX, which designed a system that will store energy for utilities using compressed air in tanks, while ClimateWell has developed a solar-powered air conditioner.

While the funding will provide immeasurable help, the winners will receive an element even more valuable in the backing of a company like GE, which includes a global sales force and a massive customer base.

For a startup, capital is necessary, but its never sufficient to build innovation, said Thomas Noonan, the CEO of JouleX, one of the winners, which is making advanced grid-monitoring technology. The work were doing with GE though their energy research labs, with access to their network, testing our products, has been extraordinary for a small, early-stage company.

GEs panel of judges considered nearly 3,800 proposals related to energy, which came from 150 different countries.

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