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Posted: August 12, 2009

Rocky Mountain Clean Tech Open

Commitment to entrepreneurship and the environment

Richard Franklin

For several years, the complexities and challenges of our planet’s energy and environmental future have been topics of heightened concern. There has been no lack of ideas to solve these problems. 

But back in 2007, waiting for solutions wasn’t good enough for a small group of Colorado business people. It was time to act.

At the time, I was the CEO of Envirobrand, a marketing organization, and was working with a group of concerned citizens on the Renewable Energy Task Force. Along with leadership from the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, we were searching for a way to address the state of the world’s energy crisis more proactively.

Through an introduction from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, we contacted Mike Santullo and Marc Gottschalk, co-founders of the Clean Tech Open. Originally founded in California, the Clean Tech Open was based on the belief that the best way to improve and preserve the environment is through technology— in large part developed or acquired, commercialized, and taken to market by sustainable startup enterprises. 

The founders knew that labs and universities, basements and coffee shops throughout the nation were teeming with ideas and solutions to pressing environmental concerns, growing energy demands and global climate change. The goal was clear: ensure that the best and brightest ideas, and the entrepreneurs and inventors behind them, have access to the resources and support they need to grow startup ideas into thriving clean tech companies.

The Clean Tech model comes to Colorado
After three successful years in California, the model was too good to stay local. With support from the Department of Energy, the program was taken to the national level. The Rocky Mountain region was selected as one of the first regional competitions because of the incredible infrastructure and support of industry, academia, NGOs, and state and federal agencies.

 “Colorado is one of the fastest-growing renewable energy clusters in the nation, and our ability to leverage the extraordinary efforts of the Clean Tech Open’s founders will benefit a whole new crop of budding entrepreneurs,” said Stephen Miller, a Rocky Mountain Clean Tech Open co-founder.  “To be associated with the California Clean Tech Open is an honor and a privilege.”

In May, the Rocky Mountain Clean Tech Open announced that entrepreneurs in the five-state Rocky Mountain region—Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming—could compete for three regional prizes of cash and services worth $50,000, and one national prize of up to $250,000. Categories included renewable energy, transportation, smart power, energy efficiency, green building, and air/water/waste management. In June, 12 semi-finalists were selected from a talented pool of 64 clean tech entrepreneurs from the region.

In addition, semifinalists will be invited to participate in the Clean Tech Open Accelerator program, where they can receive hands-on training and experience in all aspects of starting and sustaining their businesses from national experts in venture capital, business, law, marketing and sustainability.  All told, the 2009 Clean Tech Open competition includes more than $1 million in total prizes and a “100K Jobs Challenge” to create 100,000 clean tech jobs in America over the next five years.

The 2009 Rocky Mountain semi-finalists from Colorado include:

Clean Coal Briquette Inc., Lakewood
Clean coal briquettes made from coal waste and biomass waste for use in coal power plants

CLEANtricity Power, Broomfield
Manufacturer of small wind turbines that can generate power in a variety of locations and wind conditions

Cool Energy, Boulder
Developers of a clean energy generating system,

EE-Low Cost Energy and Carbon Reduction, Durango
Low-cost energy and carbon reduction through a Software-as-a-Service web application

ImagiPLAY, Boulder
Earth-friendly, ethically made, child safe toys

New Sky Energy, Boulder
Captures carbon dioxide from the air or flue gas streams to manufacture consumer products and commodity chemicals that are normally made by CO2-polluting industries

SEED - Small Engines for Economic Development, Fort Collins
Develops fuel efficient and affordable irrigation pump sets for small landholder farmers in developing countries

Sunflower, Longmont
Designs and delivers active day-lighting and hybrid lighting solutions to commercial buildings

SunTrac Solar, Golden
High temperature solar panels for solar thermal systems

The semi-finalists will now go through a rigorous mentoring process with local and national business leaders to prepare for the regional finals in September, and the National Awards in November.

The Rocky Mountain region is anxiously looking to add to the 84 percent success rate of Clean Tech alumni companies.  In just three years, these 125 companies have raised $125 million in private funding from angel investors, grants and venture capitalists. With 500 employees in the clean tech sector, the companies are projecting more than 1,200 employees by the end of 2009. 

In addition, the Clean Tech alumni companies demonstrate their success through the almost 1,000 customers they serve, including Whole Foods, Marriott Hotels, Johnson Controls, The Gillette Company, Yahoo!, Facebook and Home Depot.

From plug-in hybrid cars, to clean coal briquettes, to the energy-efficient solar panels that power a basement brainstorming session, entrepreneurs are emerging from today's clean tech movement with solutions to problems that threaten our economy and environment.

It’s an exhilarating time to be part of the change.

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Richard Franklin is co-chair of The Clean Tech Open, a national clean tech business competition founded in 2006.  Clean Tech Open  provides businesses with the tools, training and connections they need to become tomorrow's viable clean tech businesses, and has assisted over 120 companies to raise more than $125 million in external funding, and spurred the creation of hundreds of jobs.

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