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Patenting and business outcomes for cleantech startups funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy

An Author Correction to this article was published on 25 September 2020

This article has been updated


Innovation to reduce the cost of clean technologies has large environmental and societal benefits. Governments can play an important role in helping cleantech startups innovate and overcome risks involved in technology development. Here we examine the impact of the US Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) on two outcomes for startup companies: innovation (measured by patenting activity) and business success (measured by venture capital funding raised, survival, and acquisition or initial public offering). We compare 25 startups funded by ARPA-E in 2010 to rejected ARPA-E applicants, startups funded by a related government programme and other comparable cleantech startups. We find that ARPA-E awardees have a strong innovation advantage over all the comparison groups. However, while we find that ARPA-E awardees performed better than rejected applicants in terms of post-award business success, we do not detect significant differences compared to other cleantech startups. These findings suggest that ARPA-E was not able to fully address the ‘valley of death’ for cleantech startups within 10–15 yr after founding.

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Fig. 1: Subsectors represented in our dataset of US cleantech startup firms in 2010.
Fig. 2: Annual outcomes for 2010 cleantech startups by company type.

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Data availability

The data on cleantech firm identification used in this study were made available to us by Cleantech Group under a restricted license and are therefore not publicly available. Supplementary Data 1 contains an anonymized version of our company-level analytical sample with the names of the firms removed. Supplementary Data 2 contains the company-year panel dataset. The full dataset is available from the authors upon reasonable request and with permission of Cleantech Group.

Code availability

Supplementary Code 1 contains the Stata code that enables the reproduction of our main analysis.

Change history

  • 25 September 2020

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.


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We thank Cleantech Group for providing access to their i3 database. We also acknowledge excellent research assistance by A. Amini, B. Dirscherl, P. Gigglinger, A. Hammerstingl, S. Kurowski, C. Lex and N. Schlosser. We acknowledge funding from the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation H2020 under grant agreement no. 730403 (INNOPATHS) and from the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program. We also acknowledge a grant from John and Elizabeth Armstrong.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



A.G., C.D. and L.D.A. designed the study. A.G. and C.D. collected data. A.G. analysed data and ran statistical tests. A.G. and C.D. wrote the paper. L.D.A and E.B. guided the study and edited the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anna Goldstein.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–11, Fig. 1, Note 1 and refs. 1–10.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data 1

Stata file with 1,287 de-identified cleantech startups.

Supplementary Data 2

Stata file with company-year observations of outcomes for cleantech startups 2011–2017.

Supplementary Code 1

Stata code to reproduce regression results in Table 1, Table 2 and Supplementary Table 4.

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Goldstein, A., Doblinger, C., Baker, E. et al. Patenting and business outcomes for cleantech startups funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Nat Energy 5, 803–810 (2020).

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