Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cleantech Alive and Well in the Midwest

A few weeks ago, I attended the Innovation Expo & Awards event for the North Central region of the Cleantech Open. The awards event was the culmination of 3 days of networking, investor meetings and a trade expo for Midwest-based cleantech start-ups. The companies participating in the event had each completed several months of training through the Cleantech Open, a national accelerator for cleantech companies, which I have written about before.

The awards event featured short elevator-pitch style presentations from each of the 20 semi-finalist companies in the regional Cleantech Open competition. After the presentations, the crowd got to vote for their favorites, like American Idol, except without the mean-spirited judges. 

Before the awards event, the semi-finalist companies each gave investor presentations to a panel of judges, who selected the three finalists for the North Central region: HEVT, based in Chicago, Illinois, IrriGreen , based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and SiNode, based in Chicago, Illinois; as well as the regional sustainability winner: Barasa, based in Wheaton, Illinois.

The three finalists and the regional sustainability winner were invited to present at the Cleantech Open’s Global Forum on November 8th and 9th in San Jose, California. At the Global Forum, HEVT was named the Grand Prize Winner and Cleantech Entrepreneur of the Year. This is the second consecutive year in which a company from the North Central region has been named the Grand Prize Winner and Cleantech Entrepreneur of the Year.

When most people think of cleantech, they think of wind, solar, hydro power, biofuels and other sources of power generation based on renewable resources. However, the cleantech sector is much broader and diverse than that. It includes power storage, resource conservation, efficient space design, repurposing of used components, and other similar technologies. 

  • IrriGreen, for example, has developed a patented landscape irrigation system that significantly reduces water usage and installation cost;
  • HEVT has developed a technology that optimizes performance and reduces the cost of electric motors.

The Cleantech Open provides a good showcase for talented cleantech entrepreneurs throughout the country, but especially in the Midwest. With back-to-back winners in the national competition, it shows that the cleantech sector is alive and well in the Midwest. There is no shortage of good “cleantech” ideas and technologies being developed—there are many good entrepreneurs and executives in the space trying to polish and commercialize these ideas and technologies. 

Even with all the interesting technologies being developed, many companies in this space continue to struggle to find capital. Without necessary capital, they won’t be able to achieve the scale necessary to succeed. Hopefully, events like the Cleantech Open will connect enough investors with these companies to help get them to the next level.

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