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About the program

IN² seeks to support clean-energy building-related technologies and startup companies to help them overcome market gaps by providing access to both technical assistance and project support funding.

We launched the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN²) program in 2014. This invitation-only program:

  • Receives funding through a five-year, $10 million grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation
  • Is co-administered by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
  • Is designed to foster and accelerate early-stage technologies that provide scalable solutions to reduce the energy impact of commercial buildings
  • Offers coaching and mentorship as wells as access to key internal Wells Fargo advisors and external industry stakeholders
  • Provides up to $250,000 in cash and in-kind technical consultation and services to support further development of the participating technologies
  • Comprises three rounds, each lasting approximately six to 18 months

Wells Fargo supports clean technology and renewable energy sources through lending and investment, both within our operations and through our strategic philanthropy programs, as part of our overall environmental commitment strategy to accelerate the transition to a greener economy. Part of our commitment includes a goal to provide $100 million to environmentally focused nonprofits and universities by 2020.

The IN² program supports our environmental commitment by:

  • Leveraging our vast geographical footprint
  • Using our environmental finance expertise
  • Deepening our relationship with key community stakeholders to foster the development of emerging clean technologies, a critical component in building a more sustainable future

Eight to 10 companies will be awarded a place in the third round, with applications accepted June to July 2016 and selections made in November to December 2016. Four awards were made in 2014, or round one. Meanwhile, six companies were accepted in 2015, or round two. Learn more about the companies participating in rounds one and two.

After being invited to the IN² program, a company will participate in a series of collaborative scoping calls with appropriate NREL researchers to:

  • Review the company’s initial request for technical assistance
  • Determine what has changed since the company submitted its application
  • Discuss NREL capabilities relevant to the technology
  • Agree collectively on a statement of work (SOW) that fits within the IN² awardee budget

If a project cannot be scoped within three months, the project may be subject to disqualification from IN².

Each company can expect to receive funding and support for approximately six to 18 months, depending on the needs of the project.

There may be an opportunity for an extension to the IN² program to include additional rounds following the first three, as well as expand into other clean energy sectors. Check back with us later this year at

About the startups

Startups join this invitation-only program because they’re looking for a platform to help drive innovation and develop solutions to some of our greatest environmental challenges.

  • Participating companies gain access to NREL’s world-class researchers and facilities, and they get to spend a period of time testing, validating, and incubating their technologies at NREL to help them meet critical validation milestones on their path to commercialization.
  • They also receive access to Wells Fargo financial services, products, education, and mentorship, and ultimately an opportunity to potentially put their technology through a beta test within select Wells Fargo locations.

IN² is looking for sustainable buildings technologies that reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by efficiently using energy, water, and other resources. Any technology that reduces the consumption of energy, water, or other natural resource is eligible for participation.

Demand-response technologies — which may not reduce overall consumption but may reduce operational costs and the burden that a building places on its utility provider — are also eligible.

The following are themes and examples of technologies we’re accepting:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Net-zero energy
  • Lighting
  • Windows, skylights, and doors
  • Indoor air quality
  • Waste reduction
  • Materials efficiency
  • Space heating and cooling
  • Sensors and controls
  • Plug loads
  • Operations optimization
  • Energy modeling

All water technologies must be tied to a commercial building, under control of the building owner or occupant. Categories include:

  • Water data collection and analysis software
  • Onsite water management (related to conservation, recycling, irrigation, cooling towers, rainwater harvesting, or gray water usage)
  • Onsite water treatment (related to purification, waste water)

Currently, not all energy-generation technologies are eligible for participation. This includes all forms of renewable generation (e.g., photovoltaic, wind) as well as other generation strategies designed to reduce onsite operational costs (e.g., fuel cells, natural gas turbines, cogeneration).

Currently, we’re focusing our efforts on supporting early-stage companies that have energy-efficient technology solutions for the commercial built environment.

More specifically, we work with startups that fall in one of three groups:

Technology stage Program offering

Tier 1: Bench scale

  • Conceptual stage with physical proof that the concept may work
  • Development plans for prototyping and testing
  • 3 – 5 years to market
  • Further technology development

Tier 2: Prototype

  • Prototype available for testing and validation
  • Plans available for development to final product
  • Less than 2 years to market
  • Prototype testing and validation

Tier 3: Commercially Ready

  • Production models available in limited quantity
  • Less than 18 months to market
  • Product testing and validation
  • Commercialization strategy support
  • On program completion, potential for beta testing within the Wells Fargo building footprint

Of the participating companies, two are in the Tier 1 stage, five within Tier 2, and three are Tier 3.

Relocation isn’t required, though an IN² participant will need to bring their working prototype to and spend time at NREL We cover all related costs through the funding the company receives.

IP generated by participating startups, whether in connection with an IN² project or developed in advance, stays with the startup.

  • If IP is generated in collaboration with NREL, each party has the right to retain title to its subject inventions. By extension, a joint invention would be jointly owned with each party retaining an undivided interest in the joint subject invention.
  • If NREL invents something new in the work for the IN² project, participating companies can negotiate up to an exclusive license for the IP.

Extending assistance to a participating company will be decided on a case-by-case basis. A company may have the opportunity to go through a follow-on funding process after a project is completed.

When their IN² projects are completed, Tier 3 companies will potentially have the opportunity to subject their technologies to a beta test on a Wells Fargo building. However, IN² does not guarantee this testing as part of its program.

Application process

Applications will be received on an invitation-only basis. IN² will rely on its 40-plus channel partners, comprising incubators, think tanks, and universities, to provide referrals of compelling technologies. Applicants must have technologies that map to the IN² program. Publicly traded companies are not eligible.

No, applicants must be U.S.-based as a prerequisite for gaining access to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Companies referred to IN² from channel partners will complete an application, which will ask for information on:

  • The company
  • Status of the technology
  • Some business plan elements
  • Their request for technical and project-related assistance

Applications will be reviewed and scored by technical experts at NREL, the IN² Wells Fargo Board of Directors, and an external advisory board made up of industry experts.

Technologies are measured by our various stakeholder groups on select criteria, which includes:

  • Overall energy impact
  • Technical merit
  • Innovation
  • Market size and marketability
  • Sustainability
  • Risk and reward
  • Scalability
  • Uniqueness
  • Business model
  • Costs

For the current round, companies will complete their applications in June and July of 2016, with acceptances announced in November and December of 2016.

At no time will application data be made publicly available. However, please do not include proprietary information in your application. Your application will be reviewed by a selection committee, which includes experts both from within and outside of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Based on your application, expert reviewers will be asked to recuse themselves from any application that may pose a potential conflict of interest.

Applicants will be informed of status as their application moves through the three review stages:

  • NREL technical review
  • Wells Fargo IN² Board of Directors
  • External advisory board

If your company isn’t accepted into the program, high-level feedback will be provided.


Participating startups are awarded up to $250,000 of non-dilutive funding — this means they aren’t required to give up shares of their company in exchange for the grants they receive. This award will include both commissioning NREL for technical assistance and project support funding.

IN² is primarily a technology incubator program. After being invited into the program, there will be a site visit at the company location or NREL to determine the scope of technical assistance to be provided. Once the scope of technical work and funding is determined, project support funding may be scoped to support the technical effort. Project support funding will be distributed through a subcontract.

Examples include travel and hotel costs related to the technical project, training programs, prototype development, equipment purchase, and the expense of working with a business incubator or other service providers. Project-related assistance is scoped to directly support the technical effort and will not provide compensation for company management.