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6 Finalists Named in Cleantech from CO2 to Storage for $100,000 Prize

Cleantech.org announced today that it has selected the 6 Finalists for our GS Beyond Energy Innovation Challenge in the following categories: Digitization of Energy, eMobility in Cities, and New Fuels.  The finalists will pitch in a virtual pitch event on July 21 with the top team winning the cash award of $100,000 with no strings, deliverables, or equity dilution.

Being on the selection team was a blast. We partnered with some of the largest accelerators and incubators in the sector for the Challenge:  Greentown Labs, Austin Technology Incubator, at University of Texas, Elemental Excelerator, Third Derivative, Techstars, though applications came from across a couple of dozen incubators and accelerators. Semifinalists and finalists were selected in a highly competitive multi-stage process of hundreds of startups, and range from first time startup teams to experienced executives, with solutions in software, carbon products, energy storage, distributed energy, new materials, and electric vehicle technology.  Getting down to the finalists was challenging, and I’ll say we had 4 more semi-finalists that we felt could have legitimately made an argument to be included in the finals and be competitive to win.

Each of these Finalists certainly can pitch well, and brings a different approach and technology to solving big energy and climate related challenges. Startuplandia is a fast paced, rough and tumble environment. If I had to give some free advice it would be this: nine months in a startup is a lifetime, and every startup that gets funded looks just as good on paper as yours to somebody – or it wouldn’t have gotten funding.  These six startup teams represent the top couple of percent of applicants and beat out a lot of good companies already.  They each have seen prior success and have had tens of millions in dollars invested in them from both investors and both government and corporate technology R&D grants.  The finalists have been through an average of 2.1 incubators and accelerators. But they each still have some rows to hoe to hit the bigtime and deliver.  The point of the Challenge was to find and showcase ideas that can change the world, and send a message that the challenges and opportunities in the energy transition are worth tackling, but you need to bring your A game.

I’m really excited about the group that made it this far, and looking forward to seeing who the judges pick as the winner on demo day.

Finalists are:

Amperon

Amperon builds real-time electricity demand analytics for energy retailers, utilities, grid operators, and energy traders

Cemvita
At Cemvita Factory, we apply synthetic biology to reverse climate change. We do this by engineering microbes to use carbon dioxide or methane as a feedstock for the production of carbon-negative industrial chemicals.

EnPower, Inc.

EnPower, Inc. is a lithium-ion battery company accelerating the shift to a more sustainable future. The company is expanding production in Phoenix, AZ to build high performance batteries for various electric mobility applications.

Sapphire Technologies

Sapphire Technologies’ energy recovery systems convert the energy wasted in pressure reduction processes into clean electric power. Our vision is to improve the way the world harvests and utilizes energy, and our mission is to enable substantial financial returns for our customers by harvesting wasted: pressure energy while reducing the global carbon footprint.

SkyCool Systems

SkyCool Systems has developed a breakthrough cooling technology that passively rejects heat to the sky in order to efficiently and sustainably run air conditioning and refrigeration systems. Unique to SkyCool Systems’ innovation is a fundamentally different way of achieving cooling and harnessing an untapped renewable resource: the cold sky.

Veloce Energy

Veloce Energy is enabling the electrification of transportation by removing physical and financial barriers to EV charging deployment and the development of grid edge infrastructure. Our purpose-designed battery energy storage and ancillary systems are like Legos™ to leverage the existing grid to do more, faster, at lower cost across multiple sectors.

Viewers can register to watch the Finals pitches and judging at GSBeyondEnergy.com. The finals judges are 5 highly experienced venture investors and executives from Chevron, Amazon, GS Group, Energy Transition Ventures, and EDF. 

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.

What Will Happen in the Energy Transition?

Co-published with Energy Transition Ventures

The Energy Transition is the term of art that arose out of the climate and cleantech sector in common use in corporate board rooms and policy circles around 2015 to 2020 to describe the shift, and the secondary effects and impacts, from changing the source of the majority of the global fossil fuel based energy system to non-fossil energy or low carbon sources and systems, in the face of pressure on corporate, national and local responses to address climate change post financial crisis and the failure to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a global climate framework.

Today’s energy transition is a success dividend and natural evolution of the cleantech explosion of the last two decades which saw the dramatic improvement in, and lowered costs of, cleantech, and development a of dozen world class industries in Renewables, EVs, Sharing Economy, Agtech, Biofuels, Smart Grid, Consumer Energy, et al, accelerating as cleantech began to penetrate through early adopter markets, and reach and exceed cost parity with conventional sources and technologies. 

We are in the early stages of a global shift in how the world produces and uses energy, driven by:

  • Substantial cost reductions in new energy technologies, including solar, wind, and storage
  • Decarbonization efforts by countries, corporations, and consumers
  • The consumerization of energy and the rise of the engaged consumer
  • Network, computing, and intelligence technologies impacting and enabling the energy sector

This disrupts incumbents across large segments of the economy and presents a unique opportunity for new entrants.

Not only is the energy transition very real, it is now.  It will have much more imminent business disruption impacts than corporate strategists believe, it has much more potential for the private sector and technology to solve climate problems more rapidly than climate solution advocates believe, has broader origins and drivers than just climate as we seek to innovate and make a better energy base for the economy for the next 100 years well beyond simply solving global CO2 emissions, and given that almost every major sector of the economy and aspect of life rests on energy, will have close to ubiquitous, asymmetric, exciting and unpredictable first order and secondary impacts across massive swaths of our economy and lives on every country on the planet.

Some of the areas likely to see business impacts include Distributed Energy, Electrification, Mobility, Resource Efficiency, and Enabling Technologies.

Our energy system has been robust and worked amazingly well for power for 100 years, enabling the broad rise of industrial economy, and in many cases dictating economic comparative advantage for industries.  In the energy transition, that will change in unique and interesting ways.

We expect the continued rise of Distributed Energy in a range of forms, both true distributed generation, and growth of Smart Buildings and Smart Cities, as well flexibility in consumer demand and consumerization and decentralization of choice and power in virtual power networks, and eventually leading to a rewriting of the gird and energy supply networks that will change how, and where energy is created, supplied, and consumed and impact all aspects of the economy and people’s lives.

We expect a general trend towards increased Electrification throughout the economy, benefiting Renewables, Smart Grid, Energy Storage, changing Transportation and driving Building Electrification. Electricity is the ultimate “flex fuel” fairly easy to decarbonize, generally solid state, no moving parts, simpler, safer, and cleaner than combustion and liquid or gas fuels, as it reaches improved efficiencies, costs and addresses storage and fuel source.

We expect a complete rewriting of mobility as technologies continue to emerge and come down in cost, all well in the works from EVs, ridesharing, and urbanization. We see this benefiting sectors like Electric Vehicles, EV Infrastructure, Hydrogen, Fleet Management, Autonomous Vehicles, and Shared-Use Mobility, as well as creating whole new categories.

We see tremendous and unrelenting growth in Resource Efficiency, including Carbon Capture and Utilization, particularly carbon to products, Waste-to-Energy, Energy Efficiency in general, sustained growth in Agricultural Technology and Sharing/Circular Economy products and services.

And across and underlying all of this includes growth and opportunities in enabling technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Advanced Sensors, Internet of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, and Blockchain.

In short, as the energy transition occurs, everything is fair game.