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Blog Archive: June 2009

We moved! Our new offices are in vibrant downtown Redwood City

Posted by Tim Cox at 8:52 PM, 06/01/2009

The Clean Tech Open has moved into some super new office space. With land lines, yay!

We're officially moved into the new office in Redwood City! I can hear the train right outside my window, can walk two blocks to my favorite restaurant, Chipotle, and best of all, meet with several of our Alumni companies that are moving in right down the hall! Stop by any time to visit us and check out the new digs.

Our new address: 2395 Broadway, Redwood City. MAP

Special thanks to Jeremy Walker, our Special Projects Chair, for all the incredible work he's done. He found the new place, has set up all our special VOIP, gotten us some great deals on printers and hardware, helped everyone set up, and is pulling all the pieces together. He has an office space in the new place as well, so say hi to "Captain Jeremy" if you stop by.

Don't forget: the entry deadline for the 2009 competition is less than 48 hours away. The Contestant Recruitment team has done a fantastic job of reaching out to all potential contestants in every corner of the state. If you have anyone who's sitting on the fence about entering this year, please let them know about all the great perks they get just for entering!

This year's contestants will be announced on June 25th. Stay tuned for the big news.


Katie Roberts

Marketing and Communications Manager

Clean Tech Open



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Contestant screening is underway

Posted by Tim Cox at 1:23 AM, 06/02/2009

With our official entry deadline now behind us, we start to take a look at this year's rich crop of entries.


Today, we're screening Executive Summaries! Our co-founders, our Contestant Recruitment Chair, some experienced screeners, and some staff members, are all double-checking the entries for eligibility and completeness, and getting the Executive Summaries ready to pass off to our judges. What a day it's been...

Amazing kudos goes out to Shawn, our web developer, for pulling off some amazing support throughout the weekend of entries. Also, Rebeca Hwang, our Judging Chair, pulled an all-nighter getting everything ready for the judges, finalizing the screening process, and reading *every single* Executive Summary herself. What incredible supporters and volunteers we have!

We'll release final entry numbers for all the regions soon. In the meantime, thank you to all of you who entered the competition, got someone to enter, reached out to a random stranger, and otherwise supported the competition. It looks to be a good spread among our six categories, with plenty of fun technologies and great innovations. The judges are definitely going to have a hard time picking the top teams to go onto the semifinal round.

Just a quick reminder: on June 25th we'll announce the semifinalists. In the meantime, you can meet some of the teams by attending our Green Building Symposium on June 23rd at AMD in Sunnyvale. Look forward to seeing you there....



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Leadership in the Clean Energy Economy

Posted by Tim Cox at 9:00 AM, 06/05/2009

When we launched the 2009 Clean Tech Open, we stated our ambitious goal of creating 100,000 jobs in the clean tech sector. Where might these jobs be created? What skills do you need to be an attractive candidate? Can these skills be readily transferred from other industries? To answer some of these questions, we asked Karen Fullerton, managing partner at ILM Partners, a boutique executive search firm building leadership teams within high-growth companies and market leaders in the clean and renewable energy and investment services sectors.

Karen is an active volunteer with the Clean Tech Open: she works on our Innovation Partners Program and acts as a mentor for CTO entrepreneurs. You might have seen her at the recent Innovators' Matching Event. Karen can be reached at


Karen Fullerton, Pachera GroupLeadership in the Clean Energy Sector: Help Wanted

The clean energy sector is generating a lot of interest as it revs up to transform the sustainability of our energy practices and spark growth in the global economy. Convergence and rapid innovation in technology combined with increasing investment, public awareness, and a supportive federal policy and regulatory environment are giving the sector a lot of juice. 

As with any sector in a dynamic phase of expansion, however, clean energy is experiencing a shortage of suitably experienced leadership talent. The rising talent gulf poses a very real threat to the sector’s overall growth, creating a pressing need for pipelines of talent from non-traditional yet analogous industry sources. And, although I speak to scores of candidates daily who are interested in “getting into” clean energy or clean tech, most are uncertain about how or where to enter.

If you are interested in clean energy (which includes some clean tech), it’s important to understand that the sector is a broad category that includes many, highly differentiated subsectors. A vast majority of candidates don’t truly understand the scope or scale of the space and, as a result, have no idea where their skills and experience can play. I like to think that the clean energy sector’s growth and attractiveness are similar to that of the Internet space during the late 90’s. Everyone wanted to be in an online business then. But, while eBay, Amazon, Inktomi, Hotmail, Netscape, and Yahoo! all fell under the Internet umbrella, they were each in very different businesses. The same is true in clean energy or clean tech. 

Clean tech, in and of itself, doesn’t describe a given market or skill-set required. Rather, like the Internet, it is an umbrella term used to define a business sector or asset class that broadly encompasses high-growth, technologically innovative industries and their related vertical markets. The Clean Tech Open, an organization leading the way in accelerating new innovations toward commercialization, defines six broad categories of clean, environmentally sustainable technologies: Air, Water, Waste; Energy Efficiency; Green Building; Renewables; Smart Power; and Transportation. Which areas are you most interested in, and where might your skills best apply?

The challenges inherent in bringing the Internet online pale in comparison to clean energy’s uniquely complex operating environments that marry established and emerging technologies with science, heavy industry, information technology and government. To further complicate matters, new investment paradigms are required, including combinations of venture capital, debt financing, government grants and loan guarantees. This means that companies in this sector need a mix of fundamental and specialized skills.

Steve Westly, managing partner of the Westly Group, a Clean Tech investor and founding executive at eBay, believes in one essential element. “The bottom line is experience. There is no substitute for having an operating executive proven to be able to take an innovation and scale a company to profitability.” For executives hailing from analogous operational environments such as those in technology, manufacturing, and regulatory affairs, there is a great deal of opportunity.

Specialist skills are also in high demand. For example, while a traditional finance background is important, Ben Cook, CFO of Recurrent Energy, a distributed power company and leading provider of solar energy, believes specific backgrounds in structured finance are most relevant for his company. “If I want someone to finance large-scale solar systems in the U.S., I'd want expertise in big-ticket leasing or low-income housing. Thanks to the tax incentives provided, a lot of the value of solar systems is in tax benefits. So, you need someone who has structured other tax-driven investments like railcar leasing to CSX, or financed low-income housing units, which are both tax-driven financings.”

Further, with technology as the linchpin for many clean tech innovations, proven success in the fast-moving, entrepreneurial environments common in high tech is also highly relevant. Kate Gerwe, COO of Lucid Design Group, left an executive marketing role at Yahoo! to helm an early-stage company that sells real-time energy monitoring and display systems for commercial buildings. She finds her technology background invaluable in her current role. “I got involved in the space leading the Green Team at Yahoo! before making the transition here. Having the operational background is essential but so is having the passion. Just as in the Internet business, we’re working to affect a profound consumer behavior change, this time it’s around energy consumption. Lucid Design is as much a technology company as it is a green company.” 

Finally, for those looking seriously at the clean energy space, there is ample opportunity if you know how to position yourself. Do your homework and learn the sector, so you can understand how your skills and experience will translate. Establishing credibility by garnering industry knowledge and thinking about how and where your skills will be needed are good first steps in preparing yourself to move beyond “I want to get into clean tech” and landing a great role in this dynamic sector.


Karen Fullerton is a Managing Partner at ILM & Partners, a boutique executive search firm building leadership teams within high-growth companies and market leaders in the clean and renewable energy and investment services sectors. She can be reached at


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Inaugural Pacific Northwest Clean Tech Open Draws More than 50 Competitors

Posted by Tim Cox at 9:00 AM, 06/11/2009

Entrepreneurs, paired with veteran business mentors, will develop and polish business plans to compete for $150,000 in cash and professional services

SEATTLE (June 11, 2009)– The Pacific Northwest region of the Clean Tech Open (CTO), an innovation catalyst that helps great ideas become viable clean tech businesses, today announced that a total of 56 teams will compete this summer in the region’s first annual business competition.  The Pacific Northwest region, which includes Washington, Oregon and Idaho, exceeded its goal of 40 competitor teams by attracting entrepreneurs from across the region. The entrants represent a wide variety of clean tech categories including advanced biofuels and biomass, ocean and wind energy as well as energy efficiency.

“This impressive turnout proves that our region is a hub for innovation,” said Byron McCann, co-chair of the Clean Tech Open Pacific Northwest chapter, and partner with Ascent Partners Group. “Our local entrepreneurs are hungry for the help the CTO will provide to take their great ideas and turn them into successful businesses. In turn this will create jobs, increase state revenue and provide clean sources of energy.”

Teams entering the competition included 36 from Washington State, 14 from Oregon, five from Idaho and as allowed by competition rules, an additional team based in Vermont. Team breakdown by region include:

Washington State: 3 Phase Energy Systems, Adcentivize, Barr-Tech, Bioalgene, BioCorrosion Solutions Inc., Char for Change, Clarian Technologies, Divvy, Eco Solution, ecowell, Elektronova, Extreme Caps, Frankentrikes, Green Machine Technology, Green Windows, GreenTraffic, Hydrovolts, InnovaTek, InTheWorks, Inc., Jet Tobacco, LivinGreen Materials, MountainLogic, NG AeroPropulsion, NHThree, LLC, Oasys Solutions, Pangreen, Peoples, Port of Benton, Sea to Steam, Silk Road Environmental, Soaring Eagle AirTaxi, LLC, Soluxra, The Remediators, United States Wind Energy Company, Wind2O, Zebigo

Oregon: AmeriStar EcoStations, LLC, Bright Neighbor, Columbia Green Technologies, Dune Sciences, Inc., Efficient-V, Inc., Green Goose, Green Lite Motors, M2Fuel, M3 Wave Energy Systems LLC, NADAC Systems LLC, Shorepower Technologies, The Working Worms, TL Power, Virticus

Idaho: GoNano, Heat 2 Optimize, IVUS, R2EV, Stirling Energy Now

Vermont: sirius/pureprophet, ltd.

In addition to cash prizes and in kind services are other incredibly valuable opportunities for a winner, including $15,000 off the use of Avista Corporation’s  Clean Energy Test Site in Idaho, part of Avista’s Platinum Level Sponsorship of CTO.

“Creating new, clean technology in the lab is challenging enough,” said Roger Woodworth, vice president for sustainable energy solutions at Avista. “But proving it at scale is one of the biggest challenges facing cleantech entrepreneurs. Our sponsorship supports the development of many great ideas, and our Clean Energy Test Site Award will help prove new technology on the grid."

To the competitors, the CTO is far more than a typical business plan competition – it’s closely akin to a community. In addition to the participants, more than 50 business leaders have volunteered to run the contest, provide counsel and in-kind services to competitors, and overall evangelize for the growth of clean tech in the region.  Business leader volunteers come from across the spectrum of venture capital, legal, science, environment, and policy. They are committing time and resources to help clean technology entrepreneurs create or evolve business models to support their clean technology idea, raise money, find strategic partnerships and launch a business.

Twelve semifinalists will be selected at an event on June 25th and then invited to participate in the Clean Tech Open Accelerator program, where they will be given 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. More information on the competition is available on the web at:

About the Clean Tech Open

Clean Tech Open is a catalyst for clean tech innovation. A non-profit organization founded in 2006, it provides today’s clean tech innovators with the tools, training and connections they need to become tomorrow's viable clean tech businesses. The core of Clean Tech Open is an annual business competition, supported by expert volunteers and mentors, that provides entrepreneurs with the crucial business training, services and insights they need to go to market successfully. Clean Tech Open has assisted over 100 companies raise more than $120 million in external funding, and has spurred the creation of hundreds of jobs in California. Fueled by a network of over 400 volunteers and sponsors, Clean Tech Open unites the public and private sectors in a shared vision for making America's clean tech sector a thriving economic engine. Past alumni successes include Adura Technologies, Cool Earth Solar and GreenVolts. To learn more, visit:


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Clean Tech Open alum Nila profiled in BusinessWeek

Posted by Tim Cox at 2:00 PM, 06/17/2009


BusinessWeek and YouNoodle's list of 50 tech startups includes young companies that are poised for growth. We're thrilled to announce that Clean Tech Open alum Nila was selected! Congratulations to Jim and his team.

To give you the story behind the story, we asked Sharon Bell, a Clean Tech Open volunteer, who recently sat down with NiLA's founder, Jim Sanfilippo to ask him how NiLA came about and the role the Clean Tech Open played in its evolution.


Companies on the BusinessWeek-YouNoodle list illustrate both types of cleantech plays...

...Los Angeles-based Nila, on the other hand, makes energy-sipping LED movie and TV lights that are lighter and easier to carry around sets than traditional movie lights. Nila's lights have been used in the 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace and by CNN (TWX) for coverage of last summer's political conventions.


NILA: LED Studio Lighting —

Interviewed by Sharon Bell

Contact: Jim Sanfilippo, Founder

Clean Tech Open Awards: 2007 Energy Efficiency Runner-Up, 2007 Energy Efficiency Winner, 2008 Alumni Award

How did you come up with the idea for LED studio lighting?

I spent 21 years behind the camera, lighting scenes for movies and television and was a frustrated with the inefficient lighting instruments. The three main types of studio and artificial outdoor lighting existed—florescent, tungsten halogen, and hydrargyrum medium-arc Iodide or HMI. Tungsten and HMI are horrible for the environment. Tungsten lights are extremely inefficient and HMI lights contain high levels of mercury as a catalyst. A 12,000 watt HMI contains up to three pounds of mercury vapor; the bulbs are hand-blown, and break or explode all the time, thus emitting mercury. 

I became aware of the advances in LED lighting and so I experimented with it. I found it to be extremely efficient, using much less electrical load. I could see the potential, but I needed to make LED lighting perform like traditional studio lighting—meaning it would need to have the full color temperature range as well as produce enough quantity of light with an acceptable spectrum of light. My original concept was to develop a few portable LED lights for my own lighting kit. The Clean Tech Open helped me expand my idea to a much larger vision. 


How does your product address sustainability?

The Nila LED lighting system is 75 percent more energy-efficient than the most widely used studio lighting, tungsten. The lamps last twenty-five times longer, approximately 20,000 hours. LEDs also give off 80 percent less heat, requiring less cooling of a movie or television set. On many sets, the cooling alone can require as much electricity as the lights. When Oprah used the Nila Lighting System for the D.C.-based post-Obama inauguration show, the whole restaurant was lit with 40 Nila lights, and required the use of only four electrical circuits, which already existed. They didn’t have to bring in a generator that would have been required with traditional lights.

Besides the environmental and sustainability benefits, why are customers interested in your product?

The surprising thing to me is that our biggest selling point is durability—they just don’t break like traditional lighting instruments. They are cooler and don’t explode like volatile, gas-filled bulbs. Customers appreciate the modularity, stacking capabilities, and portability. 


What motivated you to compete in the Clean Tech Open?

I found out about the Clean Tech Open a few days before the deadline to enter in 2006. Not being a business person, I saw the benefits of having mentors from the business world—including finance, marketing, and business law. We won the runner-up status in 2006, and overall the experience was incredible. We were able to actually evolve the generic business plan outline that I had downloaded from the internet into an effective business plan. 

When we had a chance to enter again in 2007, we did not hesitate. This time, we won the Energy Efficiency award, so not only did we have all the benefits of mentoring and advice, we also won $50,000 and a whole host of services. Without this award money, we would not have been able to produce the LED lighting used in the latest James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. 

Through our newfound marketing prowess and exposure from the Clean Tech Open, we ended up in London demonstrating the Nila Lighting System for the Quantum of Solace lighting director and director of photography. We had 12 prototypes at the time, but the director wanted to use 30 on the film. The $50,000 prize was put to work immediately manufacturing the first production run of the Nila Lighting System. One unique use was in the car chase scenes both inside and outside the cars. They also put NILAs on the back of a motorcycle to light actors in the car chases. The NILAs were powered by the motorcycle battery. Because our LED lights are completely housed, they are much more durable than any other type of existing movie lighting. 


What are the biggest benefits to participating in the Clean Tech Open?

As a non-business person, I benefited from every meeting and workshop. The mentors were an enormous help in shaping me into an entrepreneur and my taking my vision into a real business. The business and financial plans I developed with the Clean Tech Open opened doors. The mock investor presentations and excellent feedback helped me gain credibility and confidence in investor meetings.

Besides having the money to manufacture lights for Quantum of Solace, how has winning the Energy Efficiency and Alumni awards helped?

I get invitations to speak all the time now. From that exposure, I meet lots of talented potential employees and business contacts. We gained credibility in our industry and customer base from winning the awards. We also generate more interest from potential investors and venture capitalists. 


What is the future of NILA?

We have several milestones coming up including European distribution and new products to launch in 2009. Are big milestone of 2009 is to surpass $2 million in revenue. We are also hoping to close a 2 plus million dollar funding round in the next six months. I have an ongoing relationship with the Clean Tech Open that keeps me connected to the incredible mentor talent. I also give back when I can, because the organization has given so much to me. 


Would you recommend the Clean Tech Open to other entrepreneurs?

I say yes, go for it. But, only if you are open to change. You have to be receptive to the words of expert business people who have been there, done that. I was a blank slate, so I soaked up the input and advice. I learned so much about everything from creating a business plan, to presenting the plan, to operating a business, financing, patents, intellectual property—you name it. 


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