24 Semifinalists Selected for Cleantech.org’s $100,000 Innovation Challenge

Cleantech.org, the first, and one of the top portals for technology commercialization in cleantech, has hosted an innovation challenge competition, with a $100K cash prize for the best energy startup product in Digitization of Energy, eMobility in Cities, and New Fuels. The semi-finalists were announced today. As founder and Chairman of Cleantech.org and one of the selection committee members (along with my day job in my new fund, Energy Transition Ventures), I’m excited at the list of semi-finalists, and had a blast meeting so many of the applicants. Thanks again to GS Beyond for hosting and funding this challenge, and to all the sponsors, partners, and project team. Cleantech.org has been quiet for a while, and I’m, excited to get it back in the game and looking forward to seeing the Cleantech.org network get more engaged again in solving the Energy Transition issues of our time. Please join our Cleantech.org Linked In group, which is over 40,000 members, or our Carbon Professionals Networking Group if you want to network with like minded people, or be involved in the next challenge.

5 of the semifinalists will be selected to pitch in the virtual pitch event on July 21 to win the cash award of $100,000 with no strings, deliverables, or equity dilution. The judges for the finals are absolutely lights out top notch, Kemal Anbarci, Vice President and Managing Executive at Chevron Technology Ventures, Rodrigo Prudencio, Amazon Climate Fund, Deborah Merril, President, Retail, EDF Energy Services, Kevin Hahm, Head of Investments for GS Energy, and my colleague Q Song from Energy Transition Ventures.

We had support from competition partners Greentown Labs, Elemental Excelerator, Third Derivative, Austin Technology Incubator, and Techstars. But current and alumni startups participated from almost every major accelerator and incubator in the sector, including competition as well as NREL Innovation Center, Cyclotron Road, Cleantech San Diego, Cleantech Open, CleanStart, Plug & Play, LACI, and BMW Urban-X among numerous others.  The semifinalists collectively have raised well in excess of $100 mm in equity and non-dilutive funding to develop products for the next generation of energy.  They range from pre-seed to late stage companies, and have been backed by over a hundred different venture capital funds, corporations and investors. I will say, we had a hard time convincing some startups that the $100K was actually cash, and actually no strings and no dilution. But it is. The GS Beyond executive director intends to wire money after the judges select. We are currently expecting as many as 7 or 8 pilots on our sponsor, GS’ assets will get run sometime in the next 6 months as well.

Semi-finalists are:

CompanyCategoryLocation
AllumeDigitization of EnergyLos Angeles, CA & Melbourne, Australia
AmperonDigitization of EnergyNew York, NY and Houston, TX
Blue Planet EnergyDigitization of EnergyHonolulu, Hawaii
Brimstone EnergyNew FuelsOakland, CA
CemvitaNew FuelsHouston, TX
DianomicDigitization of EnergyMenlo Park, CA
EnergyHawkeMobility in CitiesBoston, MA
EnPowerNew FuelsPhoenix, AZ
Hygge PowerDigitization of EnergyBoulder, Colorado
KUHMUTEeMobility in CitiesFlint, MI
LuminDigitization of EnergyCharlottesville, VA
MekaworkseMobility in CitiesAustin, TX
Origen HydrogenNew FuelsSan Carlos, CA
Packetized EnergyDigitization of EnergyBurlington, Vermont
PantoniumeMobility in CitiesToronto, Canada
QubitekkDigitization of EnergyVista, CA
ReJouleeMobility in CitiesSignal Hill, CA
SaaSChargeeMobility in CitiesNew York, NY
Sapphire TechnologiesNew FuelsCerritos, CA
SkyCoolNew FuelsMountain View, CA
South 8 TechnologiesNew FuelsSan Diego, CA
Switched Source LLCDigitization of EnergyVestal, NY
TeratonixNew FuelsPittsburgh, PA
Veloce EnergyeMobility in CitiesLos Angeles, CA, & Houston, TX

A few thoughts on the mix of startup applications and semi-finalists. I hadn’t done a challenge like this since launching Shell’s 1st Gamechanger Challenge a number of years ago, which actually started as a Cleantech.org project idea in 2013 (Shell Gamechanger startups did very well in this challenge, by the way). So we weren’t sure what to expect. Thanks to all the many investors, incubators and accelerators who assisted with getting the word out and coaching their applicants.

We ended with 9 in Digitization of Energy, 8 in New Fuels, and 7 in eMobility in Cities, though many startups could fit in multiple categories. Applicant quality was skewed, the top end of applicant quality was very high, likely from the focus on incubators and accelerator partners, though many of the strongest startups in the market do skip that step if they can attract funding without it, and we saw a number of high quality candidates apply directly. We ended up downselecting to a small group of approximately 60 candidates for the semi-finals, and a selection team member heard the pitch or interviewed almost all of those. There were a number of strong candidates that did not get in, thought we increased the semifinals from 21 to 24 to accommodate the quality of applicants. Primary selection criteria included team quality, uniqueness, product concept, and technical strength, traction, and fundability, though allowances were made to ensure inclusion across stages, and across technical and product categories. Several subcategories especially in areas of energy storage and electric mobility infrastructure were very crowded.

The geographic distribution was pretty typical, and with strong submissions from tech hubs in the West Coast and Northeast. Southern California and Texas were overrepresented from market statistics, as both regions had strong pushes from accelerator and incubator partners, Boston and was underrepresented. Major metros represented 3/4ths of the semifinalists, meaning small market startups were somewhat overrepresented compared to market statistics. Cleantech, energy tech, Constructiontech, and climate tech were well represented, Agtech was very limited, given the published topic areas. The submissions were heavy on batteries, storage, and EV and electric mobility infrastructure, and lighter on hydrogen and carbon than expected – possibly from the focus on product and MVP components in the application process, or the focus on incubator and accelerator applicant pools. We saw a good mix from materials to hardware to software. Consumer facing products and solar were underrepresented in applications. Biofuels applicants were almost non existent. All of our accelerator and incubator partners, Techstars, Greentown Labs, Third Derivative, ATI, and Elemental Excelerator placed semifinalists, and well over a dozen incubators and accelerators placed startups in the semi-finals, many of the startups had done more than one.

A significant number of the applicants had raised significant non-dilutive capital, and had prior investment rounds, though we saw, and included in the semis, a number startups that were smell of an oily rag pre seed level as well. Over 100 investors and funding sources were behind the semi-finalists, representing well over $100 mm in funding (though the median funding was lower). We did not track a full funding data set. While we didn’t track the data or use team diversity as a selection criteria, the diversity distribution looks like it punched well relative to the typical startup market, 1/4th of the semi-finalists had a female executive or cofounder, and 1/3rd had a non Caucasian executive or cofounder. Submissions from African American founders were very limited, and none scored well enough to be considered for the semi-finals.

All-in a great challenge launch, and I’m really looking forward to finalist selection and watching them pitch the lights out on July 21st for $100K, and you can find more details on the GS Beyond Energy Challenge competition website.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply