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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.

On Climate-Gate

as posted to Huffington Post

While thousands of climate change scientists, policy-makers and thought-leaders gather in Copenhagen to consider what to do about the future of our planet, most climate change skeptics are stuck on dissecting a scandalous incident that occured in the virtual world last month.

This so-called “Climate-Gate” stems from the efforts of a hacker who accessed a number of files and emails at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, one of the most respected institutions in the world conducting climate science analysis.

The information obtained from the CRU includes a variety of commentary by leading climate scientists that personally disparages high-profile climate skeptics, and includes attempts to coordinate efforts to retaliate against them in various ways. I suppose the bitterness is a natural human reaction to criticism, which has become very personal and nasty in recent years, but it’s petty and reflects badly on the scientists: they should be above the fray and mentally/emotionally strong enough to withstand sometimes insulting challenges from others by the virtue of the unquestioned quality of their work.

Of more consequence are the allegations that data was fudged to produce results that misleadingly suggest that the climate is worsening far more than it is in actuality. To the extent there is one, the “smoking gun” of Climate-Gate — which some skeptics are comparing to the publishing of the formerly-secret Pentagon Papers as a watershed turning the tide against the Vietnam War — is the following passage in a confirmed email from Prof. Phil Jones, Director of the CRU:

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” (emphases added)

Of course, the climate skeptic community has jumped on this trove of emails with glee. The conspiracy-theorists smell blood. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who has long dimissed the climate change issue as a hoax, called for hearings on the matter. A variety of anti-climate-change blogs have wondered why mainstream media haven’t given sufficient (in their view) coverage to Climate-Gate (see example posting).

Referring back to Prof. Jones’ damning email, I personally have no problem with the use of the word “trick”. I’ve used it, and heard it used many times in many contexts, to colloquially describe a series of analytical steps that are completely legitimate but novel and clever to compress what would be a lot of work requiring a lot of time to a little bit of work that can be done quickly and efficiently.

However, I am more troubled by Prof. Jones’ use of the highly dubious and damaging phrase “hide the decline”, and it’s not so easy to completely wash this away. It appears that certain temperature data in question were considered spurious and were dismissed by many as somehow in fundamental error, so another set of data were used as a proxy in its place — producing a result that showed a greater increase in planetary temperatures.

To be clear, I think there’s a lot of science and a lot of data that show — and still show compellingly — that something is happening to the climate that is likely to be human-induced. In other words, I don’t think that Climate-Gate brings down the entire edifice of climate science — a stance well-articulated by a recent article in The Economist. But, this particular episode involving Prof. Jones doesn’t smell right — and in fact, as of December 1, Prof. Jones has stepped down as Director of the CRU, pending an investigation. Whether or not the analytic approach and data assumptions were/are valid, it sure gives an appearance that the results were jury-rigged to produce an answer more desirable to the authors.

And this is the point of John Tierney’s excellent article in the December 1 New York Times: that the scientists were “oblivious to one of the greatest dangers in the climate-change debate: smug groupthink. These researchers…seem so focused on winning the public-relations war that they exaggerate their certitude — and ultimately undermine their own cause.”

It is inaccurate to claim, as some have, that climate science is “settled”. I have long said that climate science is far from certain, and that there are lots of unknowns that merit further study to gain better understanding. I have also said that there probably is enough known about climate change that we should do something about it — because we’ll never have perfect information, just as we never have perfect information about important issues requiring tough choices that we must nevertheless decide upon, such as battle plans (or even going to war in the first place) or rescuing the financial system.

Unfortunately, both sides of the climate debate — passionate scientists and policy advocates vs. heated skeptics and supporters of the status quo at any cost — have moved beyond rational debate into the mystical. Indeed, as reported by The Telegraph in the U.K., a British judge has recently ruled that “a belief in man-made climate change … is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations”. In other words, belief in climate change can be considered a religion.

Is this what we’ve come to: holy wars about the climate?

Let’s bring things back to some basic precepts about which no rational person can argue. First, carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas. Second, the human race is pumping roughly 25 billion tons per year of that stuff into our atmosphere — 25 billion tons per year that wouldn’t otherwise be in our atmosphere. Third, the Earth is the only known planet we can plausibly inhabit.

The truth is we really don’t know how the carbon dioxide we artificially introduce into the atmosphere will manifest itself in climatic impact. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conduct this thought-experiment and conclude that such emissions could have an important impact, and might even have a serious and damaging impact, on the long-term well-being of our planet.

Do we really want to keep conducting a global experiment with the only place in the universe where we can live for the foreseeable future? Especially if we can mitigate the experiment at modest economic costs? (By modest, I mean modest relative to the size of expenditures on discretionary human phenomena such as wars and bailouts.)

I take encouragement from hearing a voice of sanity emerge from an unlikely source, cutting through the din of the irrational diatribes in the wake of Climate-Gate. Last week, James Murdoch, the Chairman and CEO of Europe and Asia for News Corporation — the parent company of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, two outlets not generally sympathetic to the climate change issue — wrote a very thoughtful editorial that was published in The Washington Post. His punchline:

“You do not need to believe that all climate science is settled or every prediction or model is perfect to understand the benefits of limiting pollution and transforming our energy policies — as a gradually declining cap on carbon pollution would do. This is the moment to champion policies that yield new industries, healthy competition, cleaner air and water, freedom from petroleum politics and reduced costs for businesses.”

With a simple statement like this, maybe Murdoch can achieve what the climate scientists at CRU and elsewhere have been unable to accomplish with attempts at sophisticated analysis. Given Murdoch’s credentials, perhaps some segments of the climate skeptic community can begin to see more clearly the need to adopt energy policies that can improve our economy and our environment, even while acknowledging the limitations of our understanding of climate science.

Let’s not waste time investigating the crimes of the robbers behind Climate-Gate, as Richard Graves has suggested on The Huffington Post. Let’s move on past Climate-Gate, and take action towards building a better future for ourselves.