Technology & Innovation
day one project

Growing Innovative Companies to Scale: A Listening Session with Startups in Critical Industries

02.10.22 | 10 min read

On September 16th, 2021, the Day One Project convened a closed-door listening session for interagency government leaders to hear from co-founders and supply-chain leaders of 10 startups in critical industries — bioeconomy, cleantech, semiconductor — about challenges and opportunities to scale their operations and improve resilience in the United States. The panel was moderated by Elisabeth Reynolds, Special Assistant to the President for Manufacturing and Economic Development. The overarching theme is that for innovative companies in critical industries, the path of least resistance for scaling production is not in the United States — but it could be.

Unlike many startups that are purely software based and can scale quickly with little capital expenditure, these companies produce a product that requires manufacturing expertise and can take longer and more capital to grow to scale. Capital markets and government programs are often not well aligned with the needs of these companies, leaving the country at risk that many of the most cutting-edge technologies are invented here, but made elsewhere. As there is a tight relationship between the learning-by-building phase of scale up and innovation capacity, outsourcing production poses a threat to U.S. competitiveness. The country also risks losing the downstream quality manufacturing jobs that could stimulate economic growth in regions across the country.

Key Takeaways:




There are significant challenges to taking advanced technology from earlier R&D phases to manufacturing products that demonstrate viability at scale. Available financing opportunities do not adequately support longer time horizons or larger capital requirements. A lack of manufacturing and engineering skills pose another barrier to scaling a product from prototype to pilot to commercial production. After many decades of disinvestment in the country’s manufacturing base, overcoming these challenges will be difficult but essential if we are to grow and benefit from our most innovative, emerging companies. As two of the bioeconomy startups stated:

“The USG knows how to fund research and purchase finished products. There is not enough money, and far more problematically, not nearly enough skilled Sherpas to fill the gap in between.

“Manufacturing … has been considered as a “cost center,” … reducing cost of manufacturing (e.g., moving manufacturing sites offshore) is one of the major themes … Rarely there are investments or financing opportunities coming to the sector to develop new technologies that can drive innovationthe types of investment are usually very large (e.g., capex for building a manufacturing plant). As a result, it has been very hard for startups which dedicate themselves to novel, next generation manufacturing technologies to raise or secure sufficient funding.”

During the conversation, three specific challenges were identified that speak to key factors that contribute to this manufacturing gap in the United States:

1) Overseas Government Incentives and Manufacturing Ecosystems

The startups largely agreed that overseas governments provide more incentives to manufacture than the United States. Often, these countries have developed “manufacturing-led” ecosystems of private companies and other institutions that can reliably deliver critical inputs, whether as part of their value chain, or in terms of their broader development needs. Some examples from the companies include:

2) Shortcomings with Existing Federal Programs and Funding

The U.S. government has a wide range of programs that focus on supporting innovation and manufacturing. However, these programs are either targeted at the earlier stages of R&D and less on manufacturing scale up, are relatively small in scope, or involve time consuming and complicated processes to access them.

3) Supply Chain Gaps and Opportunities for Sustainable Manufacturing in the U.S.

A few specific instances were described where the United States lacks access to critical inputs for bioeconomy and quantum development, as key suppliers are located abroad. However, as these emerging fields develop, critical inputs will change and present an opportunity to course correct. Therefore, improving our domestic manufacturing base now is vital for driving demand and establishing innovation ecosystems for industries of the future.


Startups commented on the importance of expanding funding opportunities, such as co- investment and tax credit solutions, as well as key process and regulatory changes. Most importantly, startups highlighted the importance of demand-pull mechanisms to help commercialize new technologies and create new markets.

1) Additional Government Financing Mechanisms

Several companies commented on the need to provide additional financing to support manufacturers, as equipment is often too expensive for venture avenues and other forms of capital are not readily available. These solutions include expanding government co- investment and leveraging tax credits.

2) Improving Government Processes and Regulations

A few of the startups identified specific government processes or regulations that could be improved upon, such as application times for funding in energy sectors or restrictions in procurement or foreign acquisitions.

3) Government Demand-pull Incentives:

Most, if not all, startups felt that the best role for the government is in creating demand- pull incentives to support the development of technology from basic science to commercialization and help create new markets for leading-edge products. This can range from procurement contracts to new regulatory standards and requirements that can incent higher quality, domestic production.


These anecdotes provide a small window into some of the challenges startups face scaling their innovative technologies in the United States. Fixing our scale up ecosystem to support more investment in the later-stage manufacturing and growth of these companies is essential for U.S. leadership in emerging technologies and industries. The fixes are many — large and small, financial and regulatory, product and process-oriented — but now is a moment of opportunity to change pace from the past several decades. By addressing these challenges, the United States can build the next generation of U.S.-based advanced manufacturing companies that create good quality, middle-skill jobs in regions across the country. The Biden-Harris Administration has outlined a new industrial strategy that seeks to realize this vision and ensure U.S. global technological and economic leadership, but it’s success will require informing policy efforts with on-the-ground perspectives from small- and medium-sized private enterprises.