In the world of startups and technology, people get easily distracted by flashy new apps, billion dollar valuations and the ‘Uber for this’ or the ‘AirBnB for that’ models. It can be so overwhelming that we can miss out on some incredibly important and innovative startups that are developing products that could entirely revolutionize the way we interact with the world.
I’m talking specifically about the cleantech industry, which includes solar and wind energy, energy storage, advanced transportation, smart devices and architecture — smart everything, really.
Some of the the best and brightest early stage startups in cleantech will descend on Venue SIX10 here in Chicago on Tuesday for the 5th annual Clean Energy Challenge. Run by the Clean Energy Trust, this event awards $1million in funding on Tuesday — a record amount in the five years of the event.
While it is key that cleantech be competitive with conventional technologies that are already in place, what makes the industry so vital is its radical ability to improve the quality of life in developing as well as developed countries.
The best of the Midwest
The goal of the CET is to accelerate the development of a clean-energy business ecosystem in the Midwest through business development support for startups in the clean energy sector. This includes financial support along with mentoring, thought leadership, networking, feedback, national exposure and strategies for growth in the sector. This accelerator program and pitch competition is unparalleled here in the Midwest, as is its impact on the more than 60 startups that have gone through the program.
Top performers like LuminAID and SiNOde Systems have gone on to be featured on Shark Tank and SXSW Eco respectively, while AMPY, a wearable device that captures the energy from your motion and converts it into battery power for your devices, was able to run a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Several prizes will be awarded, including two worth $100,000 each — the Pritzker Foundation Prize awarded in all three categories — Student, Early Stage or Emerging Growth, and the Wells Fargo Prize which will be awarded to startup in the Early Stage category. The US Department of Energy will also be awarding a $75,000 prize to a startup from the student track, which will advance to the National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition in Washington, DC in June.
Cleantech startups built in Chicago
Of the 14 startups in the running for funding at the 2015 Clean Energy Challenge, two exciting companies built here in Chicago are SOFI Automotive and NETenergy. SOFI Automotive, out of Northwestern University, produces methane from water, sunlight and atmospheric carbon dioxide to bring automotive fuel to a low carbon or carbon neutral place in the near future.
Storage is one of the key aspects to clean energy, and NETenergy could play a key role here as an energy storage and management service provider that utilizes intelligent software combined with thermal storage technology. This allows users to store cod energy and distribute as needed, shifting A/C usage to off peak hours and saving 30 percent or more on energy consumption.
Producing much excitement is The Raht Racer out of Minnesota. This is the fastest bicycle in the world — it is fast, in that it is a human-hybrid vehicle that uses the driver’s legs to propel the vehicle up to highway speeds like a 21st century Fred Flintstone!
There will be entertainment, networking and more opportunities for event-goers and tickets are still available for Tuesday’s event. Buy tickets and find out more here.