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Blog Archive: October 2009

Venture capitalist’s top tips: essentials of a successful investor pitch

Posted by Tim Cox at 6:30 PM, 10/01/2009

This week marked an important milestone for semifinalist teams, who are honing their business plans and pitching skills in preparation for regional judging. Reporting by Carole Low and Tim Cox.

Cleantech Accelerator

The 2009 Clean Tech Open program is now in full swing, which means the 60+ semifinalist teams are working diligently toward one major goal: pitching their business idea to a panel of expert judges. This week, to hone their skills and gain valuable feedback from seasoned experts, California-based teams convened on the offices of Cleantech Open sponsor Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati for mock judging sessions, and then at the Investor Summit were able to practice their elevator pitches to representatives from the venture capital community.

Pitching investors is something of an art. Tone is as important as content for this endeavor, and delivering an investor pitch is a daunting proposition to the uninitiated. At Clean Tech Open’s recent Accelerator business training event, the business plan competition’s semifinalists gained an insider’s perspective from charismatic Andrew Chung, principal at Lightspeed Ventures.

Andrew Chung

Some might consider Andrew a true cleantech triple-play: current venture capitalist, former entrepreneur, and Cleantech Open advocate and sponsor. Andrew candidly offered his dos and don’ts for what it takes to secure funding, in a packed session titled “Fundamentals of an Investor Pitch.”

Knowing that one size does not fit all with cleantech startups, Andrew offered numerous examples throughout the module and closed with a no-holds-barred Q&A session. What a rare privilege for entrepreneurs to have direct access to an accomplished venture capitalist. After the session, he also offered some useful tips for entrepreneurs, so I thought I’d share these nuggets.

Top Four Tips on Securing Cleantech Investment Funding

  1. Be persistent, but be tasteful and methodical.
  2. Be passionate.
  3. Figure out ways to solve problems.
  4. Be scrappy.


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The joys, challenges, and pitfalls of hiring for a clean energy startup

Posted by Tim Cox at 3:00 PM, 10/07/2009

Cleantech Open volunteer Tony Loeb recently attended the talent/recruitment workshop set up by the Cleantech Open. It was geared toward contestants, semifinalists, alumni and mentors, and was held at the offices of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto. Thanks, Tony, for attending the event and reporting about the event!

It’s an excellent time to be hiring, and Matt Oberhardt, a CTO volunteer and partner at Korn/Ferry International, assembled an excellent panel to discuss building a world-class team:

Bob Walsh, CEO, Aurora Biofuels

Zach Gentry, chief strategy officer and co-founder, Adura Technologies

David Dreesen, partner, Battery Ventures

Jeff Hocking, clean technology practice leader and managing director, Korn/Ferry, Northern California


Together, they explored hiring just the “right” individual in the Brave New World of clean energy startup companies. They tackled considerations of what it is like to face all of the staffing challenges any company experiences, and considered several new and exotic requirements that are unique to this area.


—Typical questions startups face when hiring—

How do you find the right individual with the requisite experience at another company, when no other country in history has ever done what your company does?

How do you find an individual who is willing to work in an environment filled with unpredictability, and with a job description in flux?

Should you seek a specialist with narrow focus, or a jack-of-all-trades?

How do you deal with the triple threat of a rapidly changing R&D to production landscape, impatient investors, and an unclear long-term funding picture?

How do you prospect for talent? Do you use social networking programs such as LinkedIn?

In the current job market, often with scores, even hundreds, of job applicants, how do you manage a comparative assessment to arrive at the single best candidate?

How do you train individuals once they are on board?

How and when do you make an evaluation of how a new member of your team is functioning? When do you take what actions to ameliorate a less-than-acceptable job performance situation? Can you afford to be patient?


—Finding people—


Be persistent, have a clear story, and show a sense of scarcity of opportunities like yours.


—Matching employee selection to your hiring strategy—


Have a truly unique story to tell. 

Be aware that clean technologies come out of an area once considered a niche market. Looking for mainstream talent will likely not result in a good fit.

Look to industry experience as close-fitting as possible, and then go after the “champions.”

Get optimistic entrepreneurs on both fronts!

Do not hurry and make a decision before “putting a check mark in the last box.” (Don’t omit anything! — a typical mistake.)

Be aware of the inflection point between R&D and production phases. Look for the realist, rather than the pure optimist, in hiring someone to manage that vital transition, someone who will not cave in to the pressures of impatient investors, who want to accelerate the process.


—Where do you look for talent?— 


You can’t go to competitors—likely there aren’t any! Look for competence in the general area, even if the candidate’s previous role is not the same as what you need to fill. Get creative and take some chances with those that haven’t done exactly the same thing before but have great skills. Be prepared for investors to be uncomfortable, regardless of your choices.



Use social networking, but not through web-based services. Draw from your colleagues’ contacts.



Recruiting cannot be outsourced to a recruiter. In a startup especially, employees wear many hats. Only you as the hiring entity really know what the employee is likely to be doing.



Hire a CEO who has a wide range of appropriate contacts to draw from.



—With all the demands of a start-up environment, how do you allocate time for recruiting?—

Zach: Recruiting is selling. Think of it that way, with the same level of importance.


—Can you use social networking à la LinkedIn, etc?—

Zach: Works in some areas—generalists—yes; specialists—no.

Jeff: Gets you to a short list, but it’s up to you after that to narrow it down to the 2 or 3 likely candidates.

Bob: It’s a two-edged sword for the above reasons.


—How successful are virtual moves?—

Consensus was that this mode of operation has to be restricted to rare, special cases. Given the fast pace of change in a startup, it is vitally important for a significant figure in an operation to be physically present on a regular, if not daily, basis. One exception: when actual job sites are in extremely “out of the way” places, then virtual moves are necessary and can be helpful if used judiciously. Also, advisors can often be used on a remote basis.


—Generally, what is the best path to mitigation of the problems of recruiting?—

As in most areas of operation, have a sound operating plan, and have it early in the process! Companies generally wait too long. Use a rational, numerical rating scheme to be able to make a rapid determination of your lead candidate. Delay too long through a disorganized interviewing schedule, and your candidate may be gone before you are ready to make an offer.


—How do you achieve rapid assimilation of new talent?—

No other way around it—give them the manual, present them with the ‘fire hose’ to drink from. Be transparent, so that all of your staff knows what’s going on at all times. Reward good results, and after a probationary period, make rapid decisions about non-starters.


—Employee Development—

Dave: Companies need to get the present jobs done immediately, mindful that good employees need a path to higher planes. Sometimes it makes sense to change the role of a new hire—e.g. from development into a sales or marketing role—if they can do it.


Employee development is a desired, but you have to get the present job done! Do not sacrifice the tactical for the long-term strategic.


—Audience questions—


How to hire a CEO ‘pre-money?’ Probably the obvious—offer equity and make the prospect sound extremely exciting.

How to prioritize fund-raising and hiring? These have to be done in parallel. One pitfall—investors may have their own candidates, regardless of your preferences. Make sure their candidates fit your plans! 

The perennial question: Do you bet on a horse, or on a jockey? No one answer for all occasions.

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RSVP to participate in the “Academy Awards of Clean Technology”

Posted by Ian Bryan at 12:12 AM, 10/09/2009

Join us!

This year’s Cleantech Open Awards Gala will be the biggest and most spectacular event we’ve held to date, designed to showcase the boldest ideas, the most ambitious entrepreneurs and the brightest, most engaged investors, venture capitalists and prospective technology customers.

You are cordially invited to attend:

2009 Cleantech Open Awards Gala

November 17, 2009
10 am PT – 7pm PT

The Masonic Center
1111 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94108



cleantech open

Come early and explore our exposition floor of over 120 companies and sponsors from throughout the country, intermingled with networking and business development opportunities.

Expo starts at 10:00 am

clean tech open Following the expo, sit back and enjoy compelling demonstrations and pitches as Semi-finalists present their ideas and cutting edge technologies that are aimed at having a real, positive impact for our economic and environmental future. 


Demo/Pitch sessions start at 1:00 pm

In the afternoon, plug in for our keynote speakers and celebrate with us as we announce the 2009 National Cleantech Open Winner and present the $250,000 prize package. Audience members are invited to participate by voting for the "Peoples' Choice Award" of their favorite companies and technologies.

Awards Gala begins at 4:30 pm

renewable energy

Afterwards, enjoy a private Chapagne reception with Gala speakers, sponsors, industry leaders, alumni executives and Clean Tech Open 2009 Winners.

Reception and Reopened Expo begins at 6 pm


Premium ($299) and Inner Circle ($599) level ticket holders will have the best seats for the demonstrations and the Awards Ceremony in the beautiful Masonic Center Auditorium. Plus, as supporters who value the visionary role Cleantech Open plays for our economic and environmental future, Premium and Inner Circle ticket holders will also enjoy special updates and “Insider Briefings” throughout 2010 Cleantech Open from Executive Director, Rex Northen.

Inner Circle tickets ($599) include front section seating in the main auditorium plus an invitation to the private Champagne reception with Gala Speakers, Sponsors, Clean Tech industry leaders and the Winner of the 2009 Clean Tech Open. General seating admission is an incredible value at just $99 if you register before October 20th and includes admission to the Exposition, live demonstrations, speeches and the National Award announcement. You can even choose to attend just the Expo or the Demonstrations and Awards. Go to our event overview page to find out more about these options. 


The Masonic Center
1111 California St
San Francisco, CA 94108

Looking to carpool? Sign up here!


Tentative Schedule:
10:00am to 1:00pm  --  Expo! of Clean Technologies and Companies
1:00pm to 4:00pm  --  Demo and Pitch Sessions from Ideas and Business Competition Finalists and "Peoples' Choice Award" Voting
4:30pm to 6:00pm  --  Awards Ceremony with Keynote Speakers and the National Award Winner Announcement
6:00pm to 8:00pm  --  Expo! and Wine Reception


Invited Speakers Include:

  • Mayor Gavin Newsom
  • Mayor Chuck Reed
  • Congresswoman Anna Eshoo
  • Senator Barbara Boxer

 Who Should Attend and Why:

  • Current Semifinalists
  • Cleantech Open Alumni
  • Green Card Holders
  • Current and Interested Sponsors and Partners
  • Any professional interested in viewing the latest clean technologies
  • Any entrepreneur considering entering the 2010 competition

Additional Details:

Hotel Booking:

The Cleantech Open has arranged a special rate with the Parc55 Hotel, a hotel very close to the heart of San Francisco and the Masonic Center.Please use this link to book your rooms at the special rate.

Ticket Options:

$599    Cleantech Open Inner Circle - front section seating in the main auditorium and an invitation to the VIP Champagne & Hors d’Oeuvres Reception
$299    Premier - preferred seating in the main auditorium
$129    General Public

All Cleantech Open Green Card Holders receive free admission.  Sign up now for a Green Card for just $499 per year or $49 per month you have unlimited access to all the public events we run every year, including Premier seating at the Awards Gala.

To sign up for a green card, go to:

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Cleantech Open Announces Finalists in California Regional Competition

Posted by Katie Payer at 2:00 PM, 10/23/2009

On Tuesday, we at the Cleantech Open announced the winning teams in the California region – the suspense in the air was palpable!  The list of the 6 finalist teams is below…

In March of this year, 278 teams submitted entries — the most ever in the four-year history of the competition. 158 of those teams made it through to the California competition, of which 49 were selected as semifinalists. Last week, those teams presented to the Cleantech Open judges, who selected six finalist teams (one for each category) to compete in the national competition next month.

“This is the first year that we have run a California-only competition, and we saw a remarkable increase in the quantity and quality of the contestant teams,” said Rex Northen, our executive director.  “These California finalists will convene with teams from two other regions at the Cleantech Open Awards Gala and Expo, which promises to be a showcase of the best in global cleantech.”

The finalists and runners-up in the California competition of the Cleantech Open are:

Air, Water and Waste: Micromidas converts raw sewage into biodegradable plastic. John Bissell, CEO, commented: “The Cleantech Open has proven an exceptional opportunity from which we’ve drawn an amazing network of mentors and advisers. With their help, we are now eager to push into the pilot phase of our plan that allows us to demonstrate our value to our customers. Thank you, Cleantech Open.”
The runner-up in this category is Solum (agricultural sensing to prevent or reduce fertilizer runoff).

Energy Efficiency: Alphabet Energy plans to commercialize a disruptive, low-cost thermoelectric technology (developed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) that captures wasted energy and converts it into electricity. Producers of waste heat can use this electricity to power their facilities, or sell it back to the grid. “When you're thrown into a pool like the Cleantech Open, it’s sink or swim! This has been an awesome experience that has pushed us to refine every element of our business,” said Dr. Matthew L. Scullin, CEO.
The runner-up in this category is PowerZoa (smart plug for residential use that monitors and controls energy usage).

Green Building: tru2earth makes the tru2earth Life Cycle Roof Tile — 50+ year-rated roofing materials made from recycled PET (water/soda bottle) plastic that are energy-efficient, and cradle-to-cradle recyclable. They allow for rainwater harvesting and, unlike other sustainable roofing materials, are price-competitive with asphalt shingles. “The Cleantech Open provided the framework, resources, and support to make us successful,” said Brian Pierson, CEO of tru2earth. “We plan on leveraging our win in the Green Building category to drive momentum in product development and fundraising, and we will be able to go to market two quarters sooner — a lifetime in the construction industry.”
The runner-up in this category is GreenPyro (produces enriched biochar, a replacement for compost that grows healthier plants, saves on fertilizer and water and mitigates climate change).

Renewables: Armageddon Energy sells a packaged retail residential rooftop solar energy system that is attractive, affordable, and easy to install. “The Cleantech Open helped Armageddon Energy get off the ground. It brought the founding team together, helped us build our business plan and make crucial business connections. And, by winning the Renewable Energy category, it will undoubtedly help us as a small company gain credibility with crucial customers, supply chain partners and investors,” said Mark Goldman, CEO.
The runner-up in this category is ZERE (Zero Emission Renewable Energy: energy plants powered by biomass fuel).

Smart Power: EcoFactor won for its personalized residential energy management solution for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, which enables consumers to reduce energy costs and save money on utility bills without sacrificing comfort or giving up control. John Steinberg, EcoFactor CEO, said: “This award should help us advance our mission of providing personalized energy efficiency that works for both consumers and service providers. This recognition also confirms the economic and the ecological value of moving beyond one-size-fits-all residential energy management solutions.”
The runner-up in this category is Velkess (grid-scale energy storage technology).

Transportation: FuelSaver Technologies’ real-time, shape-changing technology increases fuel efficiency in long-haul vehicles such as tractor-trailer trucks and buses. Full-body streamlining of the vehicle's aerodynamic profile minimizes drag at the back and underbelly of the trailer, and between the tractor and trailer. “The Cleantech Open helped me evolve from an inventor into an entrepreneur. The wonderful volunteers with whom I worked supported me, challenged me, taught me, and broadened my horizon. It’s an amazing group of people who want to make our world a better place,” said Doron Neuberger, founder and CEO.
The runner-up in this category is itMoves (the car equivalent of a netbook; light, small, easy to use, yet with extended capabilities via connection to the information cloud).

Stay tuned for the finalist announcements from our other two regions.  These finalists from all three regions (California, Rocky Mountain, and Pacific Northwest) will convene for a final showdown at the Cleantech Open Awards Gala, held in San Francisco on November 17.

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Pacific Northwest Cleantech Open Announces Three Winners

Posted by Katie Payer at 12:00 PM, 10/30/2009

Winners Receive $50,000 in Cash and Services and Earn Spot in National Finals for Up to $250,000 in Cash and Services

Pacific Northwest Awards Gala

SEATTLE, WA--(October 30, 2009) - The Pacific Northwest Clean Tech Open (CTO), an innovation catalyst that helps great ideas become viable clean tech businesses, announced the three winners of the inaugural clean tech business plan competition: Green Lite Motors (100 MPG Commuter Vehicle), Hydrovolts (In-Stream Hydro Power), and LivinGreen Materials (Advanced Solar Technology). The winning teams each received $50,000 in cash and in-kind services and will now participate in the national competition for up to $250,000 in cash and services next month in San Francisco. Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire headlined the event last night at Seattle's ACT Theatre, where she also met with the semi-finalists to learn about their inventions. She recognized the important contributions of the CTO for its efforts in building a viable and sustainable clean tech sector to help the economy and environment of the region. "

In its first year the Clean Tech Open has become a critical driver for the type of technology innovation our state needs to create new green jobs and find clean energy solutions for our future," said Governor Gregoire. "I commend the contestants and the Clean Tech Open community for their dedication to our state's green economy and improving the way we produce and use energy." 

The three winning teams were chosen from a field of 10 semi-finalists, winnowed down from an initial group of 56. The 10 semi-finalists have benefited from a summer of focused, hands-on mentoring from local and national business leaders to hone their business plans. Judging of the competition was conducted by a group of leading venture capitalists, angel investors and business professionals with deep experience in helping companies turn ideas into viable businesses. Teams were judged not only on the scientific viability of their technology, but equally on the team's ability to move from their idea from the lab to commercial success.

"There are two goals for Pacific Northwest Clean Tech Open," said Byron McCann, co-chair of the Pacific Northwest CTO and Founder of Ascent Partners. "First, help find and fund the best and brightest clean tech ideas. Second, develop a vibrant and lasting clean tech ecosystem to foster job growth and innovation. We've made tremendous progress on those goals and we look forward to building on this great foundation for years to come." 

The winning teams and their technologies are: 

-- Green Lite Motors (Portland, OR)

  - 100MPG Commute Vehicle
  Commuters are stuck in traffic and burning up gas money.  This
  breakthrough vehicle delivers the safety and comfort of a car PLUS:
  100MPG efficiency, express lane privileges, 250 miles of freeway
  cruising, sporty driving, and easy downtown parking.

-- Hydrovolts (Seattle, WA)

  - Power from Water
  Patent-pending hydrokinetic turbines to generate renewable energy
  from waterpower for agriculture, industry and global sustainable
  development. Turbines are easy to install, operate and maintain, need
  no dams or watercourse modification and have a capital return on
  investment in less than five years.

-- LivinGreen Materials (Seattle, WA)

  - Light-Capturing Photoelectrode
  Developing a light-capturing photoelectrode, AggraLight, to sell
  to next-generation photovoltaic manufacturers to boost solar cell
  efficiency by over 50%, reduce the cost per Watt by 40%, and thus
  provide the most cost-effective, sustainable, and versatile solar

The Pacific Northwest CTO began with 56 regional entries spanning clean tech sectors such as energy storage, small-scale solar, wind and hydro, transportation and renewable chemicals. Throughout the seven month competition more than 70 volunteer mentors and committee members have hosted business clinics; put on the Clean Tech Accelerator, an "entrepreneuria l boot camp" and provided one-on-one coaching in a range of professional services including venture capital, business, law, marketing/public relations and sustainability. The Clean Tech Awards Gala was made possible by the support of several sponsors, including: Boeing (presenting sponsor); Ascent Partners Group, Silicon Valley Bank, Van Ness Feldman (supporting sponsors); Avista, Puget Sound Energy (annual platinum sponsors); Deloitte and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (annual silver sponsors). 

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 CTO 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. CTO 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, CTO 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.

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