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"We need to have a clear vision, aim high, and keep our eye on the ball."

Posted by at 10:48 AM, 12/17/2009

Cleantech Open volunteer Carole Low contributes this wrap-up report from the 2009 Cleantech Open Expo and Awards Gala. Thanks Carole!

EcoFactor Award

"We need to have a clear vision, aim high, and keep our eye on the ball."

Bill Weihl Green Energy Czar, Google 

Black blazers coupled with pressed shirts. Ready smiles accompanied handshakes aplenty. A steady buzz of 3,000 well-heeled cleantech fanatics that included investors, entrepreneurs, sponsoring companies, corporations, members of academia, press, and others interested in hearing clean-technology ideas and getting involved, convened yesterday at San Francisco's Masonic Center. On a day filled with sparkling sunshine, clear blue skies, and cold, crisp air, you could almost momentarily forget concerns of global warming, while meeting for the "2009 Academy Awards of Clean Technology." 

Nevertheless, speakers made it clear that combating the economic downturn and global warming remained two key challenges facing us all. Fittingly, the event coincided with Global Entrepreneurship Week, in which 88 countries participated this year. 

The competition section of the day's proceedings kicked off with the Global Cleantech Open Ideas competition. In tribute to the power of global ideas, startups worldwide had a chance to compete for bragging rights and $100,000 in services as the "People's Choice" Award recipient for the best global idea. Videos from New Zealand, Israel, Italy, China, Denmark, and the United States sought to dazzle the audience with ideas ranging from Danish Danfoss IXA's sensors for industrial environments to New Zealand's Nova Eco Tech's clean fuel conversion solution for vehicles. In the end, Puerto Rico-based Replenish Energy Enterprises secured the "People's Choice" Ideas Award with its micro-algae biofuels in a text invitational for the in-house audience reminiscent of Dancing with the Stars. 

To liven up the stage, entrepreneurs shared demos along with well-timed 3-minute pitches that didn't fail to entertain and at many times, delight. On entertainment alone, EcoFactor and LivinGreen Materials drew numerous laughs like no others. At the end of the day though, EcoFactor's residential energy solution of software-as-a-service (SaaS) that sits in the cloud and returns thermostat adjustments to take advantage of waste in a hands-free environment won the grand prize. 

All the stage presentations are on Cleantech Open's YouTube channel. Or watch this great video overview on 

For details on all of the finalists in the three regions from attending media, take a look at what earth2tech's Josie Garthwaite and Cleantech Group's Lisa Sibley had to say, or see Cleantech Open's official press release


2009 National Prize Winner: (valued at $250,000, including $100,000 in seed capital) — EcoFactor 

(1st runner-up - Alphabet Energy 2nd runner-up - MicroMidas)

2009 Alumni Award Winner Adura Technologies 

2009 National Sustainability Award Prize: $20,000 in startup services HydroVolts 

2009 People's Choice Global Cleantech Ideas Award Winner Prize: $100,000 in startup services Replenish Energy Enterprises Watch the video here

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

Posted by 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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“It’s better to surf where there are waves and the swells are gigantic!”

Posted by at 6:47 PM, 09/03/2009

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

Smart Grid & Energy Storage: Next Waves of Innovation”

With recent political, environmental, and economic impetus, “Smart Grid” is one of the clean tech buzzwords of 2009. How can entrepreneurs, corporations, investors, and customers looking for the path to build, enable, and grow the smart grid infrastructure succeed in this undefined territory? What are the technologies that will be the backbone of this new “energy internet”? Our panel explores the regulatory, technology, investing, and corporate efforts and challenges involved in the smart grid and energy storage.

Carole reports from the event...

“It’s better to surf where there are waves and the swells are gigantic!”
Warren Jenson
Chief Financial Officer
Silver Spring Networks

The August 2009 Smart Power Symposium, “Smart Grid & Energy Storage: Next Waves of Innovation” hit the sweet spot for the 240 attendees seeking future opportunities. A diverse panel, consisting of a vendor, an investor, an industry analyst, and a technology marketer, and led by the moderator from Greentech Media, offered their insightful perspectives on what matters and what’s next. Answers to thought-provoking questions (listed below) shed light for many.

I’ve reined in my enthusiasm for pouring out a play-by-play of this event. However, I’ve highlighted a handful of key takeaways below. To get the full benefit of a dynamic discussion like this, you’ll want to attend the next Clean Tech Open event yourself, so  hope to see you there.

50,000-foot view

“How can we rethink and address the problems today and in the future? Customers are looking for new efficiencies and technologies.” Laura Pickering, NetApp vice president, Office of the CEO & Environmental Responsibility Advocate pointedly asked the audience.

Warren Jenson from Silver Spring Networks, a seasoned CFO with roots previously established at GE’s NBC, Delta,, and Electronic Arts, then shared his company’s vision and how it related to entrepreneurs who were developing solutions for the smart grid. Warren candidly shared, “I’ve done a few things right and plenty of things wrong. There has been a ton of lessons and a ton still to learn.”

He asserted that we need a smart grid that seamlessly connects all people and devices that generate, distribute, or use energy.  Next, he explained Silver Springs Network’s role in driving energy efficiency as an operation system for the smart grid. As an example, Warren pointed out, “We are sitting in PG&E’s smart grid. There are a million connection points with PG&E at the front of it.”

Smart Power at a Glance

Goal:                             Energy efficiency is the key.
What’s involved:             Connect everything from the back office to any device.
Scale and economics:      Aim for ubiquitous and cost-effectiveness use of IP.
Locations:                      Grids are everywhere. Think global.
Timing:                         This is a marathon.

Warren’s Four Points on Smart Power and the Internet until 2020

  • Creation of the smart grid is an imperative.
  • Efficiency is the key to the global energy equation.
  • Consumers will be part of the solution for the first time.
  • A whole new platform – new applications and devices.

With those comments to tee up the evening, the moderator and panelists dived right into lively, thoughtful discussion.

Snapshot of the Panelist Discussion

John Skinner from Intel Corporation reflected on the need for an intelligent network of decentralized distributed network of people and devices. He then asked a quintessential Web 2.0 question, “How do we connect them through social networks?”

Meanwhile, Steve Vassallo, a venture partner from Foundation Capital, chimed in with his thesis around clean technology. “First, there’s an equation of supply and demand, and a notion around upstream leverage. Energy efficiency and the demand side have a massive marketing problem, but saving money is sexy.”

Moreover, attending technology-savvy entrepreneurs received tips on low-hanging fruit from Dr. Erfan Ibrahim, a knowledgeable expert on the smart grid EPRI.


Participating Moderator and Panelists in the Know

Eric Wesoff, Senior Analyst, Greentech Media (Moderator)
Steve Vassallo, Ventur e Partner, Foundation Capital
Dr. Erfan Ibrahim, Technical Executive for the Smart Grid Program, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
John Skinner, Director of Marketing, Eco-Technology, Intel Corporation
Warren Jenson, Chief Financial Officer, Silver Spring Networks

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Finding and understanding your customer

Posted by 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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