Top 5 Cleantech Prize Competitions

By Daniel Gerding

As the cleantech industry continues to grow, so too does the number of competitions geared to promote innovative ideas and companies in the industry. Academia is full of cleantech and renewable energy focused case competitions, which bring students together from a variety of disciplines to solve today’s most pressing problems. These provide students with real-world experience and also give companies access to a large talent pool at no cost. However, I believe the most valuable competitions are those which target individuals and companies who already have innovative ideas and products and reward them both monetarily and with “incubator-like” support. Here’s my short list . . . what other competitions do you think are making an impact on the industry?

1) The Cleantech Open
As the largest of all cleantech competitions, The Cleantech Open is unique in a number of ways:
• Cash prizes – $250,000 for the National Grand Prize winner (easily one of the largest awards among cleantech competitions). Also, according to www.cleantechopen.com, they have “awarded over $5 million in cash and services to support cleantech growth companies” in the past five years.
• Professional development – Cleantech Open provides its participants with significant training, mentorship, and access to potential investors.
Through its regional and national competitions, the Cleantech Open has amassed nearly 500 alumni who have collectively raised more than $300 million in external funding. Past winners include Adura Technologies, Lucid Design Group, Nila Inc., and Power Assure.

2) MIT Clean Energy Prize
Although sponsored by MIT and geared towards students, the MIT Clean Energy Prize is different from the large number of MBA case competitions. Per their mission statement, “The MIT Clean Energy Prize will catalyze a new generation of clean energy solutions to meet the world’s energy challenge through innovation and entrepreneurship.” Started in 2008, the competition is a year-long education-focused process. Teams compete in one of five separate tracks: energy efficiency, transportation, deployment, clean non-renewables, and renewables. The winning team in each track wins a $15,000 prize and competes against the winners of the other tracks for the grand prize MIT Clean Energy Prize of $200,000.

MIT has long been an entrepreneurial powerhouse – and thanks to the Clean Energy Prize and other initiatives, their intellectual capital is increasingly focused on cleantech! Past winners include C3NANO, Husk Insulation, FlowDesign Wind Turbine, and Covalent Solar.

3) Skipso Open Competition
The Skipso Open Competition is by far the most unique on this list. In fact, it’s actually not a competition at all, but instead a series of challenges that are crowd sourced from companies and cleantech professionals. By allowing companies to set up their own challenges using their platform, Skipso enables them to find solutions to their most pressing problems by leveraging their global community of experts, thought leaders, and innovators. Skipso allows companies to set up challenges in five categories: Ideas, R&D (Research and Development, RFPs (Requests for Proposals), HR (Human Resources), and Start-ups. Once the challenge is completed, the sponsoring company selects a winner and a cash award (amount varies) is usually awarded.

Past Challenges include:
• Innovative approaches to secure and expand the sourcing of carbon offsetting projects (sponsored by MyClimate)
• Innovative LED-based lighting products to expand functional application (sponsored by G.C.Illumination)

Although the awards for Skipso challenges are lower than the more large-scale competitions like the Cleantech Open, I believe the potential for them to really have a significant impact is great given that their crowd sourcing approach and open platform help companies, entrepreneurs, and experts to tap into the broader talent pool regardless of their physical location.

4) CleanTech Challenge (CTC)
Launched in 2009, the CleanTech Challenge (CTC) is similar to the MIT Clean Energy Prize in that it is focused on students. The CTC is jointly sponsored by London Business School and University College London. The competition is designed to enable students to take a clean technology from “concept” to venture funding and ultimately self-sustainability. All finalists attend a two day “boot camp” at London Business School where they receive direct guidance and support from people in the industry, and the first place winners receive a £5,000 award.

Past Winners include Silicon Solar Cells, from Technical University of Denmark/Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, Team Somba from IESE/University of Arizona, and GreenLease, a turnkey green energy solution provider.

5) Anaheim Center for New Energy Technologies Clean Tech Competition
The AC-NET Clean Tech Competition is designed to “advance the development and commercialization of energy and water technologies” by giving “early-stage” companies access to potential investors. Initially created in 2009, the competition made some significant changes this year by partnering with CleanTech OC and OCTANe . As a result of this partnership, finalists in the competition will now be evaluated using OCTANe’s LaunchPad process, which provides comprehensive feedback on participants’ business plans and investment presentations.

In addition to the rigorous OCTANe Launchpad process, the winner of the competition is awarded a $25,000 prize. Past winners include Ener-G-Rotors and Hadronex.

2 replies
  1. skipso
    skipso says:

    Great post Daniel!

    Thanks for mentioning Skipso. We see a huge potential to accelerate Cleantech innovation through crowdsourcing competitions that can allow companies to solve their most complex challenges by tapping into a global network of experts and innovators.

    I would mention another competition that has just finished and that is getting significant traction. The European Cleantech Challenge (http://www.europeancleantechchallenge.com/) is backed by Italy's largest bank (Intesa Sanpaolo) and looks for the top European Cleantech startups to take on an international investor roadshow.

    Thanks and keep up the good work.

    Carlo Soresina

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