A US-based, non-profit, volunteer organisation that exists to help clean technology start-ups by providing funding through awards and by offering mentoring and training services.
With rising global temperatures, increasing concerns about plastic pollution and overflowing landfill sites, and long term worries about future shortfalls in energy supply, the need to develop eco-friendly or clean technologies, whether they be concerned with reducing contaminants, improving recycling or improving energy efficiency, has never been more keenly felt.
Despite the fact that investment returns on clean technology have risen in recent decades, eco-friendly start-ups still face the typical problems of all new tech start-ups, namely the trials of producing and marketing untried technologies, finding funding from sceptical investors, and the fact that many of the entrepreneurs in question come from science and engineering backgrounds and may lack the knowledge and expertise required to navigate a business through its difficult early stages.
A non-profit, volunteer organisation, CleanTech Open has attempted to help innovative business owners in the sector deal with these issues since the year 2005. The idea is simple. Raising money via crowd-funded donations and sponsorship from big donors that range from major corporations to universities, the organisation grants awards to new tech firms with an environmental focus and puts them in touch with mentors and trainers.
Having raised over a billion US dollars since its inception, trained over 1,000 individuals and helped create thousands more jobs, CleanTech Open has since expanded its activities through partner organisations in many countries around the world.
Examples of companies helped by CleanTech Open include firms making thermal inserts to improve the insulation and heat efficiency of windows, nanotechnology businesses, manufacturers of smaller and more efficient power supply units, firms making environmentally friendly fire-fighting products, rooftop solar panel providers, and firms interested in turning waste cooking oils into biofuels, reducing landfill contamination in the process.
Through prizes such as national (US) awards for sustainability and a national clean technology grand prize and international initiatives such as the global CleanTech innovation programme for small and medium enterprises, CleanTech Open awards funding through competitive awards that are open to firms working in a number of categories. These include:
- Energy generation
- Energy distribution and storage
- Energy efficiency
- Chemicals and advanced materials
- Information and communications technology (ICT)
- Green building
- Agriculture, water, and waste
This focuses on renewables and other alternative energy sources as energy from waste products or low-emission power sources.
Energy Distribution and Storage
This includes innovations, both in terms of hardware and software, that allow for improved energy storage e.g. better performing batteries that can be used in countries which lack modern grid infrastructure, or improved energy distribution aimed at both industrial and domestic end users.
This includes products that improve energy efficiency and thus reduce carbon emissions. Examples include more efficient water heaters and “smart” lighting.
Chemicals and Advanced Materials
This consists of materials that reduce the environmental impacts of activities that traditionally have relied on toxic or polluting substances such as industrial detergents or packaging materials.
Information and Communications Technologies (ICT)
This includes software and hardware innovations aimed at reducing environmental impacts or improving the efficiency of resource allocation, ranging from carpooling software to energy grid management systems.
This includes more efficient or less environmentally damaging building technologies, ranging from new building materials and modular building systems to improved insulation aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
This category consists not only of inventions such as improved electric or hybrid vehicles and devices that reduce particulate contamination from exhausts, but also covers things such as improved fleet logistics to improve fuel efficiency.
Agriculture, Water and Waste
This category includes not only carbon and other emissions from the agricultural sector but also the reduction of contaminants such as fertiliser run off that affect water supplies and alternatives to non-sustainable materials. Examples of technologies that have been considered include natural pesticide production and methane sequestration.
Entrants are assessed in a multi-stage process whereby applications are initially short-listed on the basis of their technological usefulness and feasibility, whether the intellectual property is patentable, and on characteristics of the submitting business themselves.
Entrants who reach subsequent stages are assessed on a presentation made to a judging panel. Awards are granted on regional, national, and international levels. In addition, to the annual US competitions, winners in CleanTech Open’s international programmes have included winners from a variety of countries, including Turkey, Armenia, and Pakistan.
Other competitions and events that CleanTech Open has organised or contributed towards include the NASA Night Rover Challenge to develop improved energy storage that would allow a solar powered rover to continue operating throughout the long hours of lunar darkness.
Mentoring and Training programmes.
Winners are also given access to CleanTech Open’s mentoring and training programmes and attendance at networking and other events that are designed to help new clean technology entrepreneurs gain access to the wider business community and a wider range of expertise and skills than they would otherwise. As with other CleanTech Open activities, trainers and mentors act as non-profit volunteers.