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Start Up Energy Transition

Part of How Governments Support Clean Energy Start-ups

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: Germany

Responsible government entity: dena (German Energy Agency [Deutsche Energie-Agentur])

External partner: World Energy Council (WEC) co‑organises certain aspects

Target type of innovator: Seed to mid‑stage start-ups with at least a prototype that will benefit from a cash prize and global publicity (technology readiness level [TRL] 4-6)


Key elements:

  • This annual award generates significant publicity and enthusiasm around clean energy technology internationally at relatively low taxpayer cost.
  • It engages policy makers, industry experts and start-ups on a common platform to highlight challenges for high-potential disruptive ideas.
  • The initiative has an international outlook and is open to participants from around the world.

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

Type of support





Direct: non dilutive public grants via a prize


Direct: promotional video and publicity

Direct: regular communications to connect start-ups to one another and to potential investors and industrial partners

Dena, in co‑operation with the World Energy Council, launched Start Up Energy Transition (SET) in 2016. The purpose of this platform is to help energy innovators have more impact towards the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions. To fulfil this, it raises awareness about emerging clean energy technologies in Germany as well as internationally and enhances networking among policy makers, industries and new entrepreneurs in the clean energy area.

Start Up Energy Transition has three pillars: SET Award, SET Tech Festival and SET Newsroom. 

Companies no older than ten years can enter to win the SET Award between October and January each year in five categories: clean energy generation; demand-side innovation; energy distribution and storage; smart mobility and transportation; and quality energy access and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7. Entrants must already have some financial backing and proof of concept, and they generally have a prototype product or are marketing and selling it. Each year, dena publishes a list of the top 100 entrants and selects 15 finalists (3 per category). These entrants all receive publicity, services or, if they win, financial support.

Category winners receive a non‑dilutive grant of up to EUR 10 000 (USD 11 000) to be spent on technology or business development.

Dena covers finalists’ flight and accommodation costs to attend the SET Festival in Berlin.


Finalists receive a free promotional video to present their innovation and business in the most the effective way to reach a global audience.

Start Up Energy Transition culminates annually in the SET Tech Festival at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue conference and is designed to confer validation and public recognition on the finalists by providing them with a platform in front of investors, policy makers and other experts. In 2019, finalists also participated in the World Energy Congress, a triennial event, which took place in Abu Dhabi. For the longer list of the top 100 entrants, the publication of this list provides valuable validation when they are looking for further support.

Since 2020, dena has run a new initiative called SET Hub, which aims to address a gap in the innovation ecosystem in relation to the regulatory complexity of energy markets. One element of SET Hub is SET Mentoring: experts from dena review the business models of selected start-ups to identify challenges and opportunities related to the regulatory environment and the additional complexities of decentralisation and digitalisation. Applications to SET Mentoring are made via fixed annual call windows.

SET enables the top 100 entrants each year to connect with one another as well as with various partners, including companies and potential investors. It does this via regular calls, emails and a LinkedIn group. Start Up Energy Transition has arranged “matchmaking” events, at which start-ups can circulate around stands and tables hosted by prospective investors and industry partners.

Start Up Energy Transition includes dedicated interaction sessions between policy makers and selected start-ups at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue to discuss regulatory challenges. In 2020, dena launched SET Hub with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz [BMWi]) to create a forum for government, start-ups and incumbent players to identify and address regulatory barriers.

Up to 2021, Start Up Energy Transition also had an online platform (SET Connect) on which participating entrepreneurs could interact with investors who register in search of investment opportunities, and other professionals.

Start Up Energy Transition no longer asks entrants to submit their estimated greenhouse gas emissions impacts because the submissions were difficult to compare, being based on methodologies of the entrants’ choosing. An algorithm developed by Early Metrics to assess growth potential and innovativeness performs much of the initial evaluation. It requires computable data inputs.

Start Up Energy Transition has raised awareness in an area of the German innovation ecosystem that had few dedicated funds or incubators five years ago. This situation has begun to improve, and Start Up Energy Transition has evolved to become more international. In 2021, there were 2 300 entries from 102 countries, including India, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. However, there remains a gap in the availability of capital for start-ups with energy hardware that has long development timelines. The government validation for this sector is considered valuable for helping to reduce risk perception among investors. One particular challenge identified by Start Up Energy Transition is access to data in a highly regulated market such as electricity supply. Another is a lack of clarity around intellectual property ownership for R&D emerging from universities.

The testimonials shared by past winners cited the access to a high-quality network as one of the key benefits of participating.

Dena leads energy dialogues to enhance the clean energy innovation system in emerging market and developing economies. For example, it has worked together to help Kazakhstan to establish incubators that can be self-sustaining after the end of the German funding (such as by taking equity in start-ups). It co‑operates with the German Corporation for International Cooperation (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit [GIZ]) and has also worked with Mexico, Morocco and Tunisia.

The German Future Fund - EIF Growth Facility is a new equity mandate deployed by the European Investment Fund (EIF) and forms part of the EUR 10 billion (USD 12 billion) German Future Fund launched backed by the German government in 2021 as a successor to the German Growth Co‑Investment Facility. It has a ten-year mandate and focuses on providing later-stage venture capital, “in particular on digitalisation, clean-tech, life sciences and other relevant sectors”. It has the ambition of backing EU companies that could have significant penetration in international markets. It prioritises German companies.

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.

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