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ARPA-E Acting Director Jennifer Gerbi Discusses High-Risk, High-Reward Investments

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

Appearing on the news program Government Matters, Gerbi discussed the agency’s detailed selection process, which involves different levels of internal and external reviews and empowered directors.

Gerbi provided an overview of their two funding models. The focused model involves an individual director “that decides what problem to solve and why.” This model also entails pressure testing of ideas at multiple points before being pitched to the agency.

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

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

ARPA-E was founded in 2009 and has since funded more than 1,000 projects on energy efficiency, resiliency and sustainability. The agency recently invested in proposals for carbon-neutral buildings and battery improvement technology.

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