Wells Fargo Gets its Hands Dirty with Cleantech

Wells Fargo already had a pretty serious environmental giving program, but its latest move takes its involvement in sustainability in a unique direction. The company foundation is launching a clean tech incubator with the DOE, even beta testing new technology in company facilities.

As we’ve written previously, it’s unusual to see a banking giant’s corporate giving as involved in the environment as Wells Fargo's, what with its goal of giving $100 million in green grants before 2020. Previous giving did, however, put an emphasis on community environment projects, which is more the flavor of big corporate giving. But this latest program shows not only a higher level of involvement, but also an expanded interest in energy. 

Related: The Winners So Far in Wells Fargo’s Adventure in Green Giving

Wells Fargo has had a grant program supporting clean technology and innovation, often going toward universities to support their own clean tech incubators or accelerator programs. But its latest announcement is a $10 million investment in an incubator of its own, co-administered by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado. 

Calling the program IN2, the incubator will be housed within NREL, funded by the grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation, and guided by both an internal company and an external board. It’s initially calling on 20 partners like Rice University, MIT, and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, for example, to help channel early technology startups their way. 

That alone is pretty exceptional, but they’re also offering up their own staff to offer business mentoring to the startups, and eventually will test out some of the clean technology in its own buildings. The initial year is focusing on buildings, citing the statistic that 40 percent of all energy used in the United States is from buildings.

Related: One Big, Surprising Polluter Is a Target of the Kresge Foundation 

This is a pretty out-there philanthropic program for a big bank. It’s more like the kind of thing you’d see an energy company set up in partnership with a local university. The involvement of the DOE and some top-notch brain trusts certainly gives the impression that it’s going to be some serious business. 

For its part, Wells Fargo sees itself as creating a much-needed bridge between the budding technology and success in the commercial world, offering itself up as a testing ground and a source of wisdom in the corporate environment. That’s more than just cutting a check and slapping a logo on the program. The big question will be whether Wells Fargo is the right-sized puzzle piece to fit in that gap.