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The best of Clean Tech’s brightest

"What are you good at? What do you need help with?"

Those were questions asked to match mentors with the finalists of the Rocky Mountain Clean Tech Open when they began the rigorous competition for one of three regional awards six months ago.

On Nov. 3, Mayor John Hickenlooper announced that Colorado-based New Sky Energy and SunTrac Solar, and Montana-based Rivertop Renewables, were the winners of the Rocky Mountain Clean Tech Open and $50,000 in cash and in-kind services.

They are now headed to California, where they will compete against the California and the Pacific Northwest winners for the National Clean Tech Open title and more than $1 million in prizes.  Winners will be announced on Nov. 17.

Cool Energy, Inc., winner of the Rocky Mountain Clean Tech Open's Sustainability Award, is also headed to the nationals, where they will be competing for a sustainability award.

Clean Tech Open Executive Director Rex Northen cited Thomas Friedman as one of the many  thinkers who believes that it will be inventors -- not big companies -- who will solve environmental problems. Consistent with Friedman's philosophy, the role of the Clean Tech Open is to help inventors and small entrepreneurs with less than $500,000 in capital to see their technological innovations through to fruition.

The competition's veritable army of mostly volunteer resources provide rigorous business and marketing training to contestants, along with exposure to venture capital investors. In essence, the Clean Tech Open does everything possible to maximize a clean tech entrepreneurial team's chances of seeing their "nifty idea turn it into a viable, fundable business," Northen says.

The more obvious challenges, such as limited financial resources, are compounded by the less obvious yet more daunting ones.

"VC's are looking for things that are safer," Northen says. At the same time, investors are less interested in technologies that are easily replicated.

Launched in California in 2006, the Cleantech Open is now the world's largest clean tech business competition. Past alumni successes include Adura Technologies, Cool Earth Solar, Enverity, Federspiel Controls, GreenVolts, GroundSource GeoThermal, Lucid Design Group, Mission Motors and Syncromatics.

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Susanna Speier

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