Northwestern University Student-Led Company Capture $100,000 Grand Prizes at Clean Energy Challenge Business Competition

Written by Bruce Montgomery
Published on Mar. 05, 2012
Northwestern University Student-Led Company Capture $100,000 Grand Prizes at Clean Energy Challenge Business Competition

$250,000 in Cash Prizes Awarded to Startup Businesses at Second Annual Clean Energy Trust Competition; Winners Culled from More Than 100 Applications in Eight State Region

CHICAGO -- ( -- The Clean Energy Trust announced Hyrax Energy is the early-stage business winner of the second annual Clean Energy Challenge and NuMat Technologies a student-led company from Northwestern University in Illinois, captured top honors in the Student Challenge. Each company received a $100,000 grand prize sponsored by the Department of Energy.

Hyrax Energy, the early-stage winner, develops bio-refineries that utilize ionic liquids to break down corn stover and waste plant materials into fermentable sugars, which are sold to renewable plastics, chemical and fuel manufacturers.

NuMat Technologies, a materials-based startup, has developed a proprietary computational screening tool for rapidly identifying and testing metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). NuMat also developed a complimentary, low-cost approach to synthesize, purify, stabilize and experimentally evaluate MOFs.

This year’s competition included businesses from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin and introduced the new Student Challenge, designed to increase the creation of student-run start-ups and accelerate the commercialization of clean energy technologies from Midwest universities. The anchor partners for the Student Challenge—Cleantech Open, Nortech, University of Michigan, Purdue University and Washington University—provided funding for the state-level prizes.

Five $10,000 state prizes were awarded to Student Challenge competitors.

          State   University   Company Missouri   Washington University in St. Louis   Saturnis Michigan   Regenerate USA   University of Michigan Ohio   Design Flux Technologies   University of Akron Indiana   Convolutus   Purdue University Illinois   NuMat Technologies   Northwestern University    

The Clean Energy Trust is among six regional grantees, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, awarded funds for regional clean energy student business-creation competitions. The six regional student competition winners, including NuMat Technologies, will compete in the Department of Energy’s national student competition in Washington. The awards are the first federal funding for a nationwide student business plan competition and are part of the DOE’s innovation and commercialization efforts.

“The National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition is engaging the next generation of America’s energy leaders,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The winning teams have developed effective strategies for commercializing new clean energy technologies that will help American businesses lead in the global economy.”

The Energy Department’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition (NCEBPC) for university students is part of Startup America, the White House campaign to inspire and promote entrepreneurship. In mid-June 2012, the six DOE-sponsored regional student competition winners will compete in Washington, D.C. This national initiative enables student participants to gain the skills required to build new businesses and transform promising innovative energy technologies from U.S. universities and National Laboratories into innovative new energy products that will to solve our nation’s energy challenges, spur business creation, create American jobs, and boost American competitiveness.

“These prizes will help the winning clean energy entrepreneurs move their technology out of the laboratory and into the marketplace, creating new high-tech jobs along the way,” said Amy Francetic, Clean Energy Trust executive director. “The Challenge is designed to commercialize innovation by identifying and rewarding the most promising clean energy businesses. It was a tough competition and these winners represent the best of the Midwest’s new entrepreneurs in clean energy.”

More than 100 early-stage and student-led companies in all aspects of clean energy submitted applications for the Challenge. Ten early-stage and eight student finalists presented their business plans to a distinguished panel of nationally renowned investors, corporations and entrepreneurs at the Clean Energy Challenge, held March 1 in Chicago.

All of the Challenge finalists received coaching and business planning assistance from dozens of volunteer mentors coordinated by the Clean Energy Trust, a nonprofit technology accelerator that connects entrepreneurs, researchers and early-stage companies with the expertise and capital to become sustainable. The Clean Energy Challenge is the signature event of the Clean Energy Trust.

About Clean Energy Trust:

The Clean Energy Trust was founded by prominent business and civic leaders to accelerate the pace of clean energy innovation in the Midwest. The Trust is supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Joyce Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, the Small Business Administration and donations from over 50 investors, corporations, universities and trade groups. For more information, visit

About the Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy invests in clean energy technologies that strengthen the economy, protect the environment, and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Click here for the Funding Opportunity Announcement about DOE’s efforts to promote a new generation of energy entrepreneurs. For EERE’s Commercialization website, click here.

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