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Synthetic Biology Startup Cemvita Factory Edges Amperon and SkyCool for $100K Cleantech.org Competition Win

We announced today that last night Texas based synthetic biology CO2 to products startup Cemvita Factory edged energy forecasting software startup Amperon and Stanford cooling materials startup SkyCool for the 2021 Cleantech.org $100K GS Beyond Energy Innovation Prize. Jeff Wolfe of energy storage company Veloce Energy, and whose executive team comes from market leaders Tritium and Stem, was the crowd favorite pitch. The crowd also ranked Cemvita, Amperon, and SkyCool next as well. Judges reported that all 6 finalists including Sapphire Technologies, a spinout of Calnetix led by CEO Freddie Sarhan formerly an executive at Praxair, and Annette Finsterbusch, CEO of lithium ion battery manufacturing startup EnPower, and formerly head of Applied Materials venture arm, had strong showings and support to make the top 3. All 6 startups had 7 minutes to pitch, and 8 minute Q&A from judges.

Finals judges were Robert Linck, Chief Investment Officer of Shell Ventures, Deb Merril, President of EDF Retail, and formerly founder and CEO of retail energy powerhouse Just Energy, Rodrigo Prudencio, who began investing at pioneering energy venture firm Nth Power, and was CEO of carbon software startup Hara, now heading Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, as well as Kevin Hahm, GM of Investments at GS Energy Group, representing the prize sponsor, and my partner Q Song at Energy Transition Ventures.

Cemvita is located in the energy capital of the world, Houston, Texas, and edged NY and Texas based Amperon, and Silicon Valley based SkyCool. Veloce also has split executive teams in California and Texas, and EnPower is located in Phoenix. Lisa Ann Pinkerton, long time cleantech sector journalist and PR executive as well as the Chair of Women in Cleantech & Sustainability, gave a talk during the break on “Getting to Yes”, and Cemvita will be interviewed on our podcast partner Futurized.co.

I haven’t organized a challenge or prize competition like this since launching Shell Gamechanger’s R&D innovation challenges some years ago as a Gamechanger project with Cleantech.org, and was extremely pleased with the overall quality of competition. The incubator and accelerator partners for the competition helped dramatically increase the quality of applicants, and the 25 startups in the semifinals had raised well over a hundred million between them. The aggregate fundraising in process for the semi-finals group was well into the hundreds of millions. We had several billion in energy transition investment capital represented in the judging from a handpicked slate of experienced investors and executives, and the 6 finalists made their decision hard. I will post the finals video of the event up on the Energy Transition youtube channel shortly, and add to the Cleantech.org LinkedIn page.

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.

Getting Smart About Agriculture

Nine months ago, I joined Terraqualo, a new startup aimed at helping growers of specialty crops make best irrigation decisions, using a cost-effective wireless network of sensors and actuators. In this new weekly column on “Sustainable Agriculture on Cleantech Blog”, I will share some of the lessons I have learned, and invite you to contribute as well in the form of comments. 

Whether you are an investor looking to invest in an agriculture technology startup, or an engineer with a high-tech idea for agriculture, eventually, you are going to need to do your homework, and understand the business of agriculture. As I have discovered, getting into the field of agriculture high-tech  requires the ability to grasp multiple disciplines, and a good dose of humility. Before you go out and talk to the experts, UC Davis professors, farm advisors, commodity groups, and growers, I suggest you get smart very quickly, using the vast knowledge available online. Here are some of my favorite sources,
USDA websites:
  • NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service)
  • ARS (Agricultural Research Service)
  • NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service)
  • ERS (Economic Research Service)
  • Census
UC  ANR (Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources) 
Scientific papers:
Farmers’ publications:
Happy research!
Marguerite Manteau-Rao is VP Marketing for Terraqualo, a new venture in precision irrigation for growers of specialty crops. Marguerite is the creator of  La Marguerite, a popular environmental blog, and has written extensively for a number of other blogs, including Huffington Post Green. She has a multidisciplinary background as an engineer, marketer, and  social worker. You can follow her on Twitter .