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Posted: September 01, 2012

State of the state: Technology

Cleantech companies polish their elevator pitches

Eric Peterson

The Rocky Mountain Cleantech Open is nearing the home stretch, with the October 11 finish line of an awards ceremony coming into focus. Then there’s the Global Forum in November – "the Academy Awards of Cleantech" – which will feature top companies from across the country competing for the $250,000 grand prize.

Under the umbrella of the Cleantech Open, the world’s largest cleantech accelerator, there are 19 semifinalist companies that are semifinalists in the Rocky Mountain region, most of which were represented at a three-day training event at the University of Phoenix in Lone Tree August 13 to 15. Based in Colorado as well as Arizona, Utah and Montana, the regional semifinalists were selected in the spring, and many attended the Cleantech Open Academy earlier in the year. The businesses run the cleantech gamut from renewable energy to transportation.

The August regional training event consisted of lectures from experts on crafting business plans, financing and other areas of startup interest, as well as mock judging as participants gear up for the real thing in mid-October. One of the key areas of work: the elevator pitch, which culminated in a competition.

Jerry Healey, the region’s training chair, says the pitches improved markedly over the course of the three-day event. "On day one, they were pretty rough," he said. "By the third day, they were amazing."

Paul Sim, CEO of Phoenix-based Solar Pool Technologies, won first for his elevator pitch concerning his company’s solar powered pool-cleaning robot. "We make swimming pool owners love their pool again," he said, touting a two-thirds reduction in electricity used by minimizing the need for pumps. "There is just
an amazing amount of resources for a small company like us that I wouldn’t be able to access if it weren’t for the Cleantech Open."

Thomas Reilly III, VP of research and development for Fort Collins-based Carbo Analytics, which provides real-time, online sugar monitoring for the biofuels and brewing industries, commended the Cleantech Open’s volunteers. "It’s been great," he said. "I can’t say enough good things about it. I’m making a lot of progress on presentations and pitches."

Carl Lawrence, CEO of Swift Tram (a Boulder-based next-generation elevated-train startup) shared a similar sentiment. "These events are very good for bringing things into focus," he said. "It just organizes your thoughts."


Doug Gilbert, a business professor with the University of Phoenix, spoke to the semifinalists about the dos and don’ts of writing an executive summary, arguably the most important part of any business plan.

Describing the value proposition and value capture are both key, he said. "It may have a wonderful environmental benefit and no economic benefit. In our system, those ideas don’t get very far."

Gilbert says the executive summary needs to succinctly answer myriad questions, including:

• "How are you going to be different and how are you going to compete?"

• "What are you doing and who are you doing it for?"

• "Why is it exciting?"

• "What problem is it solving?"

He ended with a few final tips on the craft of writing. "Choose your words carefully," he advised the semifinalists. And if you’re no wordsmith, there are options: "Hire an editor – I’ve gone on Craigslist to find editors."


Andreas Wilfong, president and CEO of Infinity Systems Engineering, was incorrectly identified in last month’s "Best Companies to Work For" feature. Infinity Systems was the winner in the small-company category for the second time in three years. Wilfong is also the company’s founder and

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at

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