Clean Energy International Incubation Centre

How Governments Support Clean Energy Start-Ups highlights and unpacks government initiatives that help entrepreneurs get new clean energy technologies to the market, and offers recommendations to inspire innovation policy for net zero emissions. Read the report, and explore the case studies.

Government: India

Responsible government entity: Department of Biotechnology and Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC)

External partners: Social Alpha, Tata Trusts and Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited

Target type of innovator: Early-stage clean energy start-ups (technology readiness level [TRL] 3-9)


Key elements:

  • The public-private partnership model is atypical and significantly expands the support to start-ups, especially by providing access to industrial testing facilities and possible commercial partners.
  • As an initiative launched under the auspices of Mission Innovation, the Clean Energy International Incubation Centre (CEIIC) has an international outlook and international contacts. CEIIC encourages overseas applicants that can contribute to solving India’s energy challenges.
  • Government funding has helped build a state-of-the-art physical space for start-up incubation in a short period of time, including prototyping and computing assets.

Summary of the types of support provided or enabled by the policy initiative

Type of support





Indirect: Seed equity investment using Social Alpha funds

Indirect: CEIIC has in-house laboratory and technical support, and its corporate partners offer access to their laboratories and testing facilities

Indirect: A wide variety of in-house business and technical services, plus discounted access to other professional services

Direct: participating government institutions help connect start-ups with their networks Indirect: Social Alpha and its corporate partners have access to extensive networks of experts

CEIIC was established in 2018 as a joint public-private initiative under the auspices of Mission Innovation, an intergovernmental forum for multilateral energy technology co‑operation. It is a joint initiative of the Government of India and Tata Trusts, a philanthropic organisation that is majority shareholder of the Tata group of companies. It is run by Social Alpha, a not-for-profit innovation-focused organisation, with support from:

CEIIC was set up as public-private partnership with a cost‑sharing model between the Government of India and Tata Trusts (43:57). Operational costs are shared with Social Alpha and part of the government’s ongoing support comes from BIRAC’s BioNEST (Bioincubators Nurturing Entrepreneurship for Scaling Technologies) initiative.

CEIIC’s mandate is to look for start-ups with innovative solutions to challenges across the entire energy value chain in India, with a strong focus on affordability, accessibility and user experience. Its sectoral scope is broad, covering household energy access, clean cooking, smart appliances, rooftop solar, industrial waste heat recovery, industrial energy efficiency, agricultural irrigation, cold chain, waste-to-energy, electric vehicles and charging, building automation, energy-efficient cooling and heating for buildings, and energy transmission networks.

The range of support measures offered draws upon Social Alpha’s existing suite of tools, including seed funding processes, a market access programme and a network of investors, companies and sources of profession support. It is open to applications from overseas start-ups looking for help entering the Indian market.

How support is made available and allocated

CEIIC uses both a permanently open call for all eligible technologies and an annual call with a technology focus to solicit applications for support. In addition, it receives referrals from partners, such as other incubators, and scouts for talent. The annual call is titled Techtonic – Innovations in Clean Energy (previously, Social Alpha Energy Challenge) and it typically attracts over 500 applications for financial and incubation support. Its technology focus is articulated as a set of problem statements for the annual calls, which in 2021 covered clean energy for better livelihoods, smart energy systems, energy storage and thermal comfort. As an example, the problem statements for thermal comfort were:

  • High upfront and operating costs of clean energy-powered efficient heating/cooling solutions.
  • Adverse health impact due to traditional unclean solutions.
  • Unavailability of affordable efficiency control devices that could lead to reducing energy demand for heating, ventilation and cooling, making it more affordable.
  • Lack of customised solutions to specific regional, climatic and community needs.

Evaluation is based on impact potential (on climate and society), technological novelty, ability to achieve financial sustainability, and potential to reach large-scale operations.

Depending on how the start-ups enters CEIIC’s programmes, different models of support are available:

  • Basic: A basic package of business services is available to all start-ups.
  • Equity-based: start-ups who receive equity investment benefit from the most extensive support, including access to laboratory tools, office space and a deeper engagement on strategy and product development.
  • Credits: start-ups selected as winners of the annual “challenge” calls or are referred from partner programmes but do not pursue the equity-based model, receive an allowance of credits that can be worth more than INR 2.5 million (USD 33 000) and are redeemable against infrastructure and services.
  • Pay-as-you-go: Start-ups that are not receiving equity-based incubation support, have not received credits or have already redeemed all their credits can pay for use of any available infrastructure and services using cash or by yielding the equivalent equity value to Social Alpha. This model is often most suitable for overseas start-ups that are not selected via the annual challenge calls.

The typical length of CEIIC incubation programmes is 12 months.


Not all start-ups supported by CEIIC receive financing. However, selected start-ups are eligible for seed equity investment of up to INR 10 million (Indian rupees) (USD 130 000), which is invested by Social Alpha using its own resources. Social Alpha undertakes the financial assessment and due diligence process for interested start-ups.

In addition, start-ups selected for support at CEIIC are eligible for non‑dilutive grants for product development and scale-up. Social Alpha also connects start-ups with its network of investor partners.


Start-ups receiving incubation have access to infrastructure including laboratory facilities, a co‑working space, conference rooms and concierge services. At its headquarters, CEIIC has a rapid prototyping lab with 3D printers and scanners, circuit board printing and testing facilities, laser cutters, computing infrastructure with software suites, and various workshop tools. Planned additions in 2022 include more measurement equipment, sensors, thermal imagers, calibrators and data acquisition systems, plus a battery testing facility and an ability to undertake electromagnetic interference and compatibility testing against industry standards.

In addition, start-ups have access to six research facilities at Tata Power, including battery and meter testing laboratories, switchgear and power transformers workshops, and communications and smart grid laboratories. Hosted in the same building as Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited’s Smart Grid Lab, CEIIC also has access to a testing facility for energy storage, smart grid applications and a solar PV generator.

Start-ups receiving credits can spend them on support that is in line with the needs assessment made for each start-up by CEIIC at the beginning of its incubation programme.


Some support services are free to access for all selected start-ups. This basic package include strategic advice, assistance with business and financial models, expert mentorship, access to coaches, discounted software purchases, workshops, procurement support and assistance with designing impact metrics. CEIIC monitors start-ups for their improvements during its period of support.

Start-ups receiving equity-based incubation or credits also have access to services such as: branding and marketing; intellectual property filing; legal, secretarial and compliance advisory; accounting and book keeping; and more mentorship and advisory support from domain experts. Start-ups receiving equity-based incubation have a higher level of assistance with fundraising.

CEIIC vets a range of service providers and can help start-ups to buy their services at a discount. Such services include hiring and payroll management, branding and communications, legal and compliance, taxation, secretarial assistance, and intellectual property filing.

CEIIC assists start-ups in identifying and accessing suitable funding opportunities from other sources. These include grants and accelerator programmes run by the Department for Biotechnology and BIRAC, plus the different types of support provided by the government's National Initiative for Developing and Harnessing Innovations (NIDHI). CEIIC also works with organisations that can provide funding and market support, such as Sustain Plus, a foundation for energy access and development co‑founded by Social Alpha, the Selco Foundation and Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI), also supported by Tata Trusts and IKEA Foundation.


CEIIC’s networking support builds on the networks of Social Alpha, Tata Power and Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited. These networks include some of the main scientific universities and think tanks in India. The government’s Department. of Science and Technology, Department of Biotechnology and NITI Aayog institutions commit to supporting start-ups with connections to their networks.

CEIIC’s connection to Mission Innovation has enabled its start-ups to receive exposure and networking opportunity internationally.

Evaluating and tracking impacts

CEIIC integrates emissions impact assessment into its evaluations. This is performed in collaboration with RISE in Sweden, which applies its own Avoided Emissions Framework. RISE estimated the combined emissions avoidance potential of 20 start-ups incubated at CEIIC to be over 200 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030.

Start-ups’ impact potentials are also tracked using outcome and impact indicators defined for each start-up and mapped against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Using these metrics, CEIIC assesses progress at least monthly for each recipient during the 12‑month programme.

Experiences and learnings so far

CEIIC incubated start-ups have received have received over 70 awards and recognitions as well as additional funding. The awards include the prestigious Earthshot Prize, won by Takachar and featuring SOLshare as a finalist.

CEIIC administrators identify several learnings from their experience so far that they are using to improve the programme:

  • The early-stage start-up ecosystem for clean energy remains fragmented in India, and there is a continuing need for support from government and not-for-profit sources.
  • The public-private model has delivered benefits beyond the direct support to selected start-ups. The involvement of the private sector has strengthened the clean energy innovation ecosystem in general and made the participating companies much more engaged in the opportunities and challenges in the area.
  • There is more than one “valley of death” for clean energy start-ups, which necessitates a more strategic approach to support, in terms of both financing and other services.
  •  There is significant value in building technology problems and net zero emissions compatibility into the eligibility criteria at the outset based on a corresponding investment thesis. This helps to ensure that resources are prioritised in line with social and environmental needs.
  • CEIIC’s strategic partnerships have been a particularly valuable part of the support provided. Incubators’ impact is much larger if they act in concert with the wider innovation ecosystem and strengthen their partnerships.

Planned developments for CEIIC include more international co‑operation with institutions in other countries to facilitate scale-up in cross-border markets, more focus on climate impact and enhancements to all existing CEIIC programmes.

Complementary and related programmes

NIDHI, including Technology Business Incubators

Atal Incubation Centre

This publication has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union as part of the Clean Energy Transitions in Emerging Economies programme. This publication reflects the views of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Secretariat but does not necessarily reflect those of individual IEA member countries or the European Union (EU). Neither the IEA nor the EU make any representation of warranty, express or implied, in respect to the article's content (including its completeness or accuracy) and shall not be responsible for any use of, or reliance on, the publication.

The Clean Energy Transitions in Emerging Economies programme has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 952363.

Eu Flag Png