Today in Palo Alto, Calif., the 2009 Clean Tech Open honored six teams of entrepreneurs as California Regional Finalists. The competition began in 2005 as the California Clean Tech Open. This is the first year the competition extended outside the state; the California winners will go on to compete with finalists from other regions.
Still, being named as a California finalist—out of a field of 158 entries—is huge, and the folks picked today knew it. Four competitors sitting in front of me were literally holding their breaths waiting for the award in their category to be announced—and simultaneously exhaled when they heard their company’s name. It’s such a big deal because California finalists get $100,000 in cash and services to help them build their businesses, and because being named a finalist is validation of their ideas that brings them one step closer to getting the venture investment they need to make their dreams come true.
The California Regional Competition sends six teams on to the finals, one in each of the competition categories—Air, Water, and Waste; Energy Efficiency; Green Building; Renewables; Smart Power; and Transportation. The Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain competitions will each send three finalists on. A National Grand Champion will receive a $250,000 prize package.
While all six finalists announced seem to have solid business potential, two in particular generated a distinct buzz in the room when founders stepped up to describe their ideas—not chatter, exactly, but that feeling of the folks in the audience leaning forward just a bit to make sure they’re catching every word, the rustle of people rummaging for a pens to take notes.
Based on this buzz factor, I’d say the California startup with the biggest chance at the Grand Prize is Micromidas. The team, mostly recent graduates from the University of California at Davis, has developed a technology that turns raw sewage into biodegradable plastic. They intend to work with wastewater treatment companies to build the processing plants to produce the plastic. The plastic would be sold as packaging material for retail goods; consumers would the dispose of the packaging in home or municipal composting facilities. The price of the new plastic would be competitive with petroleum-based plastics. Micromidas is looking to raise $1 million in funding and expects have its first pilot plant up and running a year from obtaining that funding.
Also a possible Grand Prize contender, based on the audience buzz: Armageddon Energy. This solar-power-kit-in-a-box company actually grew out of the Clean Tech Open itself; its founders met as volunteers behind the scenes, where they helped set up chairs and click through slides, and then started talking about what it would take to enter the competition themselves. The team has designed a 1-kilowatt rooftop solar system designed to be sold in a flat-pack box and through big box retailers like Home Depot and Costco. While consumers could do some of the assembly and installation themselves, the final step—connection to the electric grid—would require an electrician to complete, although that electrician would not need any special solar installer certification. Along with the system, the company would sell dashboards and web services for consumers interested in closely tracking system performance.
The other California finalists were Alphabet Energy, tru2earth, Ecofactor, and Fuelsaver. National winners will be announced at an event in San Francisco on 17 November.
Read Spectrum’s coverage of past winners:
Crowning the Clean Tech Stars
California Clean Tech Open Wraps Up for 2007
Build a Kite Big Enough for a Ship and You’ll Save Fuel
Winner of Clean Tech Open Scores Again