Our core activity is a series of annual regional business plan competitions for cleantech startups looking for a jump-start in bringing their products to market.


Marc Gottschalk | Clean Tech Open

EarthToys Renewable Energy Article
Our core activity is a series of annual regional business plan competitions for cleantech startups looking for a jump-start in bringing their products to market.

EarthToys Interview

Clean Tech Open

Marc Gottschalk, Co-founder Clean Tech Open

What does Clean Tech Open do?

Clean Tech Open is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping great ideas become viable cleantech businesses. The mission of Clean Tech Open is to serve as an innovation catalyst, providing the infrastructure and processes to develop and motivate entrepreneurs and early stage companies creating clean, environmentally sustainable technologies.

Our core activity is a series of annual regional business plan competitions for cleantech startups looking for a jump-start in bringing their products to market. We help by providing cleantech entrepreneurs with support, education, resources, expert mentoring, access to potential customers and funding sources, high profile events, press and publicity.

Each winner receives a “Startup-in-a-Box” package worth $100,000 in cash and services announced at our final Awards Event. All finalists display their technologies and gain significant exposure to media, angel investors, VCs, sponsors, cleantech executives, utilities, politicians and government representatives, and national and international organizations.

Our focus has always been on providing every resource possible to our entrepreneurs and inventors. In the process, Clean Tech Open has created a unique network of corporations, venture and angel capital firms, entrepreneurs, inventors, business professionals, universities, national and private labs and governmental agencies, and over 400 volunteers.

Can you give us some examples of success stories resulting from Clean Tech Open?

Over $118M in funding for Alumni to date with a pipeline of future funding events

Major funding successes include 2006 Winner GreenVolts ($10M first round, $25M second round), 2006 Runner-up CoolEarth Solar ($21M, angel and first round), 2006 Winner Adura Technologies ($5M first round) and 2007 Runner-up Hum Cycles ($1.2M angel round). Please see the websites of those companies for more details.

  • 795 customers
  • 20 Patents awarded
  • 2 UL Labs Certifications awarded
  • Product Status: Shipping - 12; In Pilot Programs - 11; Prototype – 13
  • Over 90% of alumni companies still active
  • 320 new jobs created

The following is a sample of successes from our 2007 Winners:

NiLA Inc.—2008 Alumni Winner; 2007 Winner, 2006 Runner-Up, Energy Efficiency
LED stage set lighting for the entertainment industry
NiLA produces the NiLA Lighting System, an environmentally sustainable LED lighting system for film and television production. This system contains no lead or mercury, uses 50% less energy, lasts 25% longer, and generates 70% less heat than traditional lighting systems. NiLA recently secured a worldwide distributor for its lighting systems. They provided lighting for the 2008 James Bond film “Quantum of Solace” and Ron Howard’s “Angels and Demons”. The company also provided lighting for CNN coverage of the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Currently, NiLA Inc. is working on a next generation light that will use fewer watts. The company expects to have 25 employees by the end of 2009.

Syncromatics – 2007 Transportation Winner
GPS tracking and passenger counting for transit line efficiency
Syncromatics provides real-time bus tracking for bus operators, giving transportation operators the ability to track and analyze routes, monitor the number of people getting on and off at specific stops via sensors installed on the bus, and share real time arrival and loading information with the public. This allows transportation operators to tune their routes to increase efficiency while demonstrating to the public that transit can work for them. The system is installed in each transit owned bus and uses Global Positioning Service (GPS) to detect movement and location.

Since winning in 2007, the Syncromatics team has focused on product development, releasing a new version of their product every few months. In the past year they have exhibited at trade shows, presented at transportation conferences, and continue to spin out new pilots at various locations across the country. Their customer base has grown to 12 big-name customers, including the University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania, in the past year.

What is the organization focusing on right now?

National Expansion. Our National Expansion program is sponsored by the Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. They are helping out first affiliate, the Rocky Mountain Clean Tech Open, to launch its first competition in Spring 2009. Other regions are soon to follow. We not only plan to grow our Clean Tech Open competitions and “entrepreneur first” philosophy across the U.S., but also to create a national network of support services and resources for startup cleantech companies and an on-line community to accelerate their success.

How does a company get involved?

We welcome anyone with a cleantech idea – students, inventors, serial entrepreneurs, and anyone with a great idea in a basement or on a cocktail napkin. If you are interested in competition in the 2009 competition, please visit www.CleanTechOpen.com and click the button that says, “Enter the 2009 Competition.” There are four simple steps:

  1. Register on our site and indicate your interest in competing.
  2. Check the eligibility rules, which includes having at least two members per team.
  3. Pay the entry fee. The Early Bird fee is $150. The regular rate is $250.
  4. Submit a three-page Executive Summary by June 13, 2009. Templates can be found on our website.

That’s it! You’re signed up for the competition and eligible to win a “Start-Up in a Box” prize package worth $100,000 in cash and services.

What are you looking for from the general public?

Involvement! Our organization currently has three full-time staff members and over 400 volunteers. We are always looking for Chairs to help out with our various programs, mentors for our companies, volunteers to help out with programs and events, judges from our community of academics and sponsors, and of course, financial support. If you are interested in donating to Clean Tech Open to provide support for solutions to the world’s growing energy demands and pressing environmental concerns, visit www.CleanTechOpen.com and click “Donate.” We welcome donations large and small. Help us make a difference in the way the world views and uses energy!

What is the best emerging sector of clean technology right now?

The competition focuses on six different categories of clean technology, and all of them have their own thriving sector.

Air, Water & Waste – The world’s water resources are in crisis and solving the problem of clean water for all could solve many of the world’s other conflicts. The 2007 Winner of this category has a novel technology for water treatment that has garnered national and international attention.

Energy Efficiency – LED lighting is leading this sector, but advances in appliance efficiency are also taking center stage.

Green Building – U.S. office building account for almost 40% of the nation’s total energy consumption. Creative solutions for reducing energy use in building construction and in making building materials have received tremendous focus. 2008 Winner Bottlestone takes recycled glass to make high quality countertops.

Renewables – Solar continues to lead this space and new innovations are being rolled out non-stop. We anticipate that this sector will continue to grow constrained primarily by the availability of credit and the constrictions of interconnection and transmission for utility scale plants.

Smart Power – This category deals with the smart grid and battery storage. With a $1 trillion market sector, the global power grid is due for a major overhaul. In conjunction, the world need a viable way to store the power generated from renewable energy sources. The company that can answer this need is bound to be successful.

Transportation – This vast market allows for an almost unlimited group of solutions, from biofuels and public transportation, to personal monitoring of driving efficiency and online carpool systems. This is a sector that will only continue to grow as the demand for oil increases. The biggest challenge to this sector is not innovation, which is plentiful, but capital to bring it to market.

How do you think the negative forecasts for the economy will affect the clean tech industry?

During our Awards Gala on November 6th, Steve Vassallo of Foundation Capital said in his keynote address, “Difficult times expose the more important unmet needs of the market, and they can actually make it easier to identify opportunities for new technology and products.” We are truly seeing this trend in the cleantech sector, as many people who might not have a current job are taking steps to create their own cleantech companies. There is also huge interest from potential employees. Our own Alumni have somewhat defied the current economic trends, as many are continuing to hire employees and grow in revenue and customer numbers.

That being said, there has certainly been some belt tightening from the VCs, and potential companies are going to have to work harder to prove themselves. One of the things that they have in their favor is the focus the incoming administration has on looking at clean technology and carbon reduction as critically important, not just as a means of saving our environment and promoting national security, but as a key driver of job growth in the years to come. With the emphasis on jobs, federal funding and policy support will be more likely to follow.

Early-stage companies looking for support, education, mentorship and funding to ride the wave of clean technology should make the Clean Tech Open their first stop.

Marc Gottschalk is Co-Chair of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati's Clean Technology and Renewable Energy Practice and is an early founder and board member of the Clean Tech Open. He represents a number of start-up enterprises in all areas of clean technology including Proterra (all-electric and hybrid buses and trucks), Microvi Biotech (water treatment), CoolEarth Solar (utility scale solar) and Nila Lighting (LED lighting for studios). He considers them all his children and can not wait for them to grow up to be big and strong.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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