Ideas, Investment & California’s Clean Tech Competition

There’s nothing like a little healthy competition and a $50,000 cash prize to accelerate the development of the U.S. renewable energy market. That’s the idea behind the California Clean Tech Open (CCTO), an annual competition designed to provide California entrepreneurs, scientists, idealists, engineers and environmentalists with the chance to turn a brilliant idea into an economically viable clean technology business.

The 2007 competition, which kicked off last night at San Francisco City Hall with a variety of keynote addresses, runs through October and is divided into six categories: renewable energy, transportation, smart power, energy efficiency, green building, and air-water-waste management. Co-sponsored by Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, the renewables category received the largest number of entries in the 2006 competition, said Michael Santullo, co-chair of the CCTO. And considering the amount of attention renewable energy has been receiving this year in the media as well as on Capitol Hill, the diversity of submissions in the renewables category is expected to exceed last year’s entries by a significant amount. “Renewable energy is such a large sector. There are a lot of entrepreneurs going after investments there,” said Santullo, noting one of the competition’s key goals is to make it easier for entrepreneurs and researchers to attract Angel investors. “Especially PV solar, there is tremendous investment potential right now.” Teams of two or more wishing to enter the competition may submit an executive summary detailing their idea through June 30. From there, 10 finalists will be selected in each of the six categories. These finalists then take part in a number of mentoring and networking exercises along with business-process workshops throughout the summer — before presenting their ideas to a distinguished panel of judges in the fall. “Our nation’s labs and garages contain a wealth of innovation and untapped potential for developing and sustaining a robust clean tech economy,” said Santullo. “Like a ‘start up-in-a-box’ for clean tech, the California Clean Tech Open imparts the capital and guidance needed to help move the most promising of those early stage ideas into market reality.” Winners in each category will be announced in October, and each awarded $50,000 in cash, plus more than $50,000 in services including a year of office space as well as legal, public relations and accounting services. Prize sponsors for the 2007 competition include AMD, Google Inc., Lexus, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric and the ENVIRON Foundation, among others. “Our mission is to find those people that are out there developing not the next new technology, but the technology after the next. To help them, nurture them and get them into a position where they can establish a viable business, not just be another bright idea,” said Jeremy Walker, CCTO marketing chair and 2006 winner in the transportation category. “I was one of the finalists and winners last year… One thing that it did do for us as a company is that it forced us, bullied us in fact, to think for the first time of [business] plans that we hadn’t thought of before,” added Walker. The winning team in the 2006 renewables category was headed by Bob Cart who entered the competition with an “undeveloped business model but a passion for solar energy; research and development focused on solar for utilities.” His company, GreenVolts, has now secured $1.5 million in funds from grants and investors and is located in an office space donated by PG&E with seven employees. “Both investors and potential customers have heard of GreenVolts through the CCTO, and they are instantly confident in us as a company, because they know a distinguished group of investors, financiers, technologists and others have reviewed and endorsed our business plan and early activities,” said Cart. The California Clean Tech Open is sponsored by Acterra: Action for a Sustainable Earth, a nonprofit based in Palo Alto, California. The competition is supported by a diverse array of businesses, educational institutions, government leaders and private individuals, and run by a dedicated group of volunteers including business professionals, scientists, environmentalists and entrepreneurs.
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