Friday, July 8, 2011

Cleantech Open Offers Great Opportunity for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

The Cleantech Open just recently announced its semi-finalists for this year’s competition. I was honored to be able to participate as a judge for the North Central region, and can report that there are several intriguing companies vying for this year’s prizes.

For those of you who don’t know, the Cleantech Open, founded in 2006, is a national business plan competition for aspiring entrepreneurs in the clean technology space. The Open’s mission is “to find, fund, and foster the big ideas that address today’s most urgent energy, environmental, and economic challenges.” Almost 400 teams have come through the Open’s programs, with approximately 80% remaining viable today. Cleantech alumni have raised over $280 million in private capital and created over 2,000 new cleantech jobs.

The competition is currently divided by seven regions, including the North Central region (which consists of Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin). Contestants submit their applications by region and into one of six categories: (1) air, water, and waste, (2) energy efficiency, (3) green building, (4) renewable energy, (5) smart power, green grid, and energy storage, and (6) transportation. Initial applications were due by May 27th, and semi-finalists were announced on June 15th. Twenty teams from the North Central region—five of which are from Minnesota—were named semi-finalists.

The semi-finalists will compete at regional competitions in early October, with opportunities to win in excess of $20,000 in cash and professional services. The regional winners will then compete at the national final in November, with an opportunity to win up to $250,000 in cash and professional services. In addition to these prizes, the Cleantech Open also provides mentors to its applicants, focused business clinics on important topics (angel investing, intellectual property protection, finance, marketing, legal, etc.), and excellent networking opportunities with investors and professionals in the cleantech space.

The Cleantech Open is a great opportunity for new and emerging companies in the cleantech sector to get their business plans and ideas in front of experts in this area. Even companies that are not named regional finalists will have had an opportunity to focus on improving their business plans and to receive feedback and advice from investors and other professionals in their unique space. This experience should prove invaluable as these companies seek to gain funding for their business ideas. If you did not have an opportunity to apply this year, I highly recommend that you consider applying next year.

Even among the group of companies that did not advance to the semi-finalist stage in the North Central region, there were several that had interesting ideas and strong teams. The fact that several potentially viable companies did not even make the semi-finalist round in the Cleantech Open is a sign that the cleantech sector is maturing and attracting highly skilled and motivated entrepreneurs. Thanks to the Cleantech Open for bringing together entrepreneurs, investors, and other professionals and providing a catalyst for the development of strong cleantech businesses.

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