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Blog Archive: August 2009

Utilities heart the Cleantech Open

Posted by Tim Cox at 11:00 AM, 08/01/2009

This post comes to us from Jill Richards, managing director of Gra y Wolf Partners a management consultancy offering strategy and marketing services to green, technology, and services clients.
Thanks Jill!

PO Box 125
Tiburon, CA 94920

There’s a love affair going on between California utilities and the Clean Tech Open (CTO). Utilities may seem like imposing organizations but they are filled with people with heart and a passion for the mission of CTO. I learned why when I spoke with sponsors of a recent Clean Tech Open breakfast briefing.

For Ahmed Abdullah, emerging technologies manager at San Diego Gas & Electric, CTO helps solve a big business problem. “For the past few years, we have been supporting multiple energy efficiency measures that are now quite prevalent and have become the norm. But,” he says, “the bar has been raised on energy efficiency standards and now the measures going into current utility programs must demonstrate that they save energy over and above the standard programs.” Around 2006, he says, utilities realized they were running out of efficiency measures that would meet the utilities’ energy conservation goals. He is passionate about CTO because it encourages clean tech entrepreneurs and brings great new ideas to utilities. “CTO,” Abdullah says, “is the perfect fertile ground to identify some promising technologies that within five to ten years could be successfully brought to market and save far more energy than those they are replacing.”

Robyn Zander, program manager for the TRIO program at Southern California Edison, loves that CTO gives entrepreneurs and utilities visibility to each other. “The best part of working with CTO as sponsors is that the utilities are becoming more transparent to entrepreneurs through these competitions. We aren't the big elephant in the room anymore.” Zander believes that CTO events and outreach help utilities become more accessible and successful. “We want entrepreneurs to know,” she says, “that we're actually open to innovative ideas and that we can help nurture those ideas. We can help to shorten the commercialization process and realize the kilowatt hour savings of these cost-effective technologies.” Zander also says that working with CTO entrepreneurs is a nice contrast to her day-to-day corporate environment. “It's just fun to be around people who are excited about what they do. The fact that they are not stuck in cubicles but are running around all over the place to get their ideas funded and bought is exciting. It’s a fun space to be in right now.”

Joanne Medvitz, senior program manager in the emerging technologies group at Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) couldn’t agree more. For her, the clean tech space brings together a love of technology and entrepreneurial ventures. Medvitz says she was working as a consultant at Accenture, helping the CPUC develop its energy efficiency long-term strategic plan when she had an epiphany of sorts. At the stakeholder workshops she listened to utilities, local governments, contractors, retailers, and every type of player in the energy realm talk about clean technologies. “I was amazed at how much technology is in the energy sector — not just in renewable energy, but in energy efficiency and demand response. I thought this is amazing and I need to be in this space.” She joined PG&E and began working with CTO as a way to “stay involved with all the cool technology and make sure it is available to all our customers. The engineer in me loves the exchange from the labs to commercialization.” And, like Zander, Medvitz is energized by working with entrepreneurs. “My dad has his own company,” she explains, “and I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit. Even though I work for a large company, I love to see young businesses thrive. I think the two can co-exist and have mutual benefit.”

You can contact any of the Clean Tech Open utility sponsors by email using the addresses provided. Each has offered to personally connect entrepreneurs with the appropriate resources at his/her utility.



Sempra Energy


Southern California Gas

Southern California Edison

California Public Utilities Commission

Robyn Zander
Program Manager, TRIO
Southern California Edison

Joanne Medvitz
Senior Program Manager, Technology Transfer
Pacific Gas and Electric Company

Ahmed Abdullah
Manager, Emerging Technologies
San Diego Gas and Electric
Southern California Gas Co


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Accelerating cleantech semifinalists toward success

Posted by Tim Cox at 6:55 AM, 08/03/2009

By Carole Low, Clean Tech Open Volunteer. Thanks Carole!

The Clean Tech Open's educational program, which provides all semifinalists access to business experts, was kicked off by a stellar event: the Clean Tech Open Accelerator. Carol reports from the event...



What could entice dozens of clean tech entrepreneurs to convene on common ground in San Jose over a long weekend? Try 60 hours at the Clean Tech Open Accelerator, a 3-day bootcamp. It was crafted exclusively for this year’s 72 teams of semifinalists from the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, and California.

At the Clean Tech Open’s first Accelerator, a steady buzz of energy, focus, and passion drives the momentum. Participants dove headfirst into sessions offering greater insight and guidance on how to build a winning business and plan. While engaged in mini-MBA modules, ranging from fundraising to market analysis, semifinalists connected with a who’s who list of venture capitalists, seasoned mentors, speakers, sponsors, and select clean tech experts.

Christina Ellwood, Clean Tech Open’s 2009 Summer Program Chair and technology marketing guru, along with several Clean Tech Open veterans I met, brought me up to speed on what  sets the Clean Tech Open apart from any other business plan competition.

“At the Accelerator, semi-finalists directly interact and learn from the stars of the Silicon Valley clean-tech community: successful entrepreneurs, thought leaders, investors and domain experts. Never before have early stage clean tech startups had a team of this caliber assembled. It’s the experience of a lifetime!

These leaders have come together for the sole purpose of helping the semi-finalists succeed. Why do they do it? For the opportunity to engage, groom and influence the next generation of clean tech entrepreneurs. Their passion and commitment is incredible. Just feel the energy in the room – it’s electric!

Over the course of the weekend, deep and lasting relationships are being forged that will serve the entrepreneurs for months and years to come as they progress on the exciting buy extremely challenging journey of building their companies.

Our hope is that the cumulative effect for the entrepreneurs, investors and ultimately the community is enormous.” I couldn’t agree more.

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Finding and understanding your customer

Posted by Tim Cox at 4:30 PM, 08/25/2009

By Carole Low, Clean Tech Open Volunteer. Thanks Carole!

We know that creating a winning business plan can be tricky business, especially these days. Thanks to Cleantech Open’s marquee event, the aptly named Accelerator, semifinalists throughout the western region drank water from fire hoses in interactive modules that ranged from relevant, engaging discussions on sustainability metrics to fundraising and capitalization. 

I had the good fortune to join the module, “Finding and Understanding the Customer” — or, in unsexy language — market analysis, led by two dynamic session leaders. Tom Kosnik, a Stanford University professor, and Christina Ellwood, Cleantech Open’s 2009 Summer Program Chair and technology marketing advisor, captured the audience’s attention by generously offering expertise and guidance, engaging the semifinalists, providing numerous practical examples, and closing with a hands-on workshop to solidify the day’s learning experience. Here’s what Tom and Christina shared.

Tom Kosnik

Tom Kosnik: “The goal of the Accelerator is to reduce the infant mortality of clean tech startups. Today, the majority dies in the first two years. The challenge is to get from the first few sales to selling to the more pragmatic and conservative customers that will make up the majority of their business going forward.”

Christina Ellwood

Christina Ellwood: “To do so, they need to build repeatable sales in multiple segments and select the one segment in which to build their beachhead. Then, they can focus on that segment to build momentum in their sales. In a nutshell, without market traction they won’t make it through their second year. Steve Blank’s call to “get outside the building” and engage early and often with customers and get their feedback is a great way for founders to address this challenge.”
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Rex Northen is a panelist at Sept. 1 Harvard Club 'Cleantech Thought Leader' event

Posted by Tim Cox at 6:55 PM, 08/25/2009

Come and see our very own Rex Northen at this interesting event, next week in San Jose…

Harvard Club of San Francisco, Alston & Bird Host Three Visionary Organizations Driving Cleantech in the Bay Area

The third installment of the Harvard Club of San Francisco and Alston & Bird’s 2009 Cleantech Thought Leaders series will take place at Adobe’s LEED Platinum-certified San Jose headquarters on Tuesday, September 1.

Jonathan Livingston of Livingston Energy Innovations will provide a brief keynote address, immediately followed by a panel discussion with three leaders of prominent San Francisco Bay Area clean tech institutions:

  • Dan Adler, president, California Clean Energy Fund
  • Rex Northen, executive director, Cleantech Open
  • Melinda Richter, executive director, Environmental Business Cluster

Panelists will discuss the current environment for cleantech in the greater Bay Area, considering the impact of energy and climate legislation and the disbursement of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) cleantech funding allocation. The panel will also consider what lies ahead for their respective organizations, for California, and for global cleantech over the next few years. A Q&A session will follow.

“The evening will focus on the challenges and accomplishments of our three panelists' organizations,” said Augie Rakow, board member of The Harvard Club and attorney at Alston & Bird. “They will highlight their organizations’ efforts to promote clean, efficient and profitable resource solutions. We hope attendees will be inspired by these real-life examples and take away some best practices.”

Registration costs $25 for the public and includes dinner. Early registration is encouraged.

Program Information

Right Here, Right Now
How three visionary organizations are driving clean tech in the Bay Area

Adobe Park Auditorium
345 Park Avenue
San Jose

6 pm - Light buffet dinner and refreshments
7 pm - Presentation
For further information and program registration go to

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