The past year was a big one for energy and environmental innovators in Maine. Funded by the Maine Technology Institute, a new level of collaboration among supportive organizations across the region is helping to drive this growth, from E2Tech – the Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine – to the Cleantech Open Northeast (CTO-NE), and the Northeast Clean Energy Council (NECEC).
E2Tech,Maine’s trade association for energy, environmental, and cleantech businesses, ramped up its efforts supporting the sector’s startups in 2015. Key to that work has been E2Tech’s role as a clearinghouse for Maine innovators to find and connect with resources elsewhere, including world-class opportunities from the CTO-NE and the NECEC Institute.
The Cleantech Open is a nonprofit global accelerator program for energy and environmental startups; its mission is “to find, fund and foster entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today’s most urgent energy, environmental and economic challenges.” Chapters across the US and internationally coordinate the program regionally; regional winners travel to Silicon Valley each fall for the final round of the competition, the Cleantech Open Global Forum. The Northeast chapter, coordinating Pennsylvania to Maine and based in Boston, is by far the international organization’s most competitive.
The Cleantech Open’s annual accelerator program begins in spring, when applications open for startups in:
- Energy Generation
- Energy Distribution & Storage
- Energy Efficiency
- Chemicals & Advanced Materials
- Information & Communications Technologies (ICT)
- Green Building
- Agriculture, Water & Waste
The Northeast chapter has received about 100 applications each spring in recent years, and after rigorous review, about 1/3 are accepted into the six-month program. Over the summer, Cleantech Open contenders partake in a twelve-week series of workshops and bootcamps on fundraising, successful pitching, acquiring early customers, and more. Additionally, each company is matched with one to three top-notch mentors, professionals who have volunteered their skills and expert networks to support Cleantech Open entrepreneurs. In the fall, the Cleantech Open wraps up with regional final judging events, pitch contests from which four to five top companies from each region travel on to the Global Forum. The CTO-NE estimates the value of its training at $10,000 for all competitors each year. Additionally, up to 5 winners in a region each receive up to $15,000 in cash and up to $15,000 in services; regional winners then compete for 5 national prizes of up to $10,000 in cash and $10,000 in services, and one National Grand Prize Winner receives up to $100,000 in investment plus $100,000 in services.
The Cleantech Open’s Northeast chapter has helped accelerate 250 startups in the past decade, awarding $98,500 in prizes in 2015 alone. Among 2015 graduates, 100% reported they would recommend the program, with 91% of them continuing relationships with their Cleantech Open mentors. Indeed, graduates consistently hail the program’s powerful national network of influencers and entrepreneurs, and the visibility and credibility it lends their startups through showcasing to investors, strategic partners, and customers. Furthermore, of the more then 300 active mentors, 92% report they’d recommend the program to fellow professionals.
E2Tech collaborated with the CTO-NE on a Maine kickoff event in March of 2015. Entrepreneurs and business mentors joined to hear from alumni companies and mentors, and right away, Maine saw its largest-yet pool of startups applying to the Cleantech Open. Two companies were accepted to the Northeast’s selective Class of 2015: solar-powered water purification company Beltane of Topsham, and Portland sustainability software firm Rapport IO. Both companies presented outstanding presentations in October’s final pitch contest. Even better, Rapport earned a spot in the Cleantech Open’s global competition in Silicon Valley in November. John Rooks, a founder of Rapport, described to the Portland Press Herald the accelerator’s role in sharpening his company’s focus: the Cleantech Open “really holds your feet to the fire in terms of deliverables,” such as nailing down a business plan, financial projections, filing patents and other tasks needed to protect intellectual property. It provides a great deal of focus on the strategy of building a business that can get lost in the day-to-day slug-fest of doing the work,” Rooks explained.
Applicationsto the Cleantech Open Northeast 2016 are due May 1. E2Tech and the Cleantech Open will collaborate again on a Maine launch event, to be announced soon.
Side-by-side with the CTO-NE, E2Tech’s deepening partnership with the Northeast Clean Energy Council has created significant opportunities for Maine’s energy and environmental innovators. The NECECbills itself as “the premier voice of businesses building a world-class clean energy hub in the Northeast.” Though NECEC also has significant depth in energy policy and advocacy, it is their work supporting startups where E2Tech has joined forces.
NECEC focuses on both personal relationships as well as digital resources, united under a mighty online database of mentors, investors and other funders, entrepreneurs, events, accelerator programs, incubators and makerspaces, and myriad other resources and opportunities for the Northeast’s green business community to connect. This database, Cleantech Navigate Northeast, is easily searchable for open opportunities and for requesting introductions to key leaders. Behind the scenes, a team of “Connectors” – including staff from NECEC, E2Tech, and other allies – works together to moderate and facilitate these personal introductions every day. Much like a LinkedIn for green business in the Northeast, Navigate is free to join for any individual or organization.
In addition to facilitating relationships through Navigate, the Northeast Clean Energy Council also hosts an annual series of events for business and policy leaders. Some of these are broadly focused Summits, others feature awards highlighting success stories, and some are highly targeted meetings of the minds. These include “Investor Connect” events where entrepreneurs and investors enjoy facilitated speed-dating, gatherings of the NECEC Strategic Partner Network of corporate strategic investors from Fortune 500 companies, and Founders’ Roundtables for entrepreneurs to share unique problems and answers under Chatham House rules.
Whereas the Cleantech Open offers energy and environmental startups an annual cycle of programming, the Northeast Clean Energy Council’s events, introductions, and Navigate database provides year-round support for emerging companies.
Pika Energyis a great example of a Maine cleantech company excelling with a little help along the way from E2Tech, the Cleantech Open Northeast, and the Northeast Clean Energy Council. Westbrook-based Pika develops small wind turbines and energy electronics. Pika competed in the 2012 Cleantech Open Northeast, earning a ticket to the Global Forum in Silicon Valley, and attracting considerable investor visibility along the way. Later, in July 2013, E2Tech and the Northeast Clean Energy Council coordinated to invite Pika to compete in the Regional Nominees Challenge. Pika won, earning an award of $30,000 to underwrite their applications to two important endorsing bodies for the T701 turbine, the Interstate Turbine Advisory Council and the Small Wind Certification Council. The 1.5kW residential-scale T701 achieved both of these importantcertifications in February 2015 and January 2016, respectively, clocking in at the quietest SWCC-certified turbine on the market, to boot. In February, the company demonstrated even more momentumwith a new $2.255M equity offering. Throughout, Pika has been a key member company of E2Tech, frequently collaborating to speak on behalf of Maine’s growing green-business sector.
E2Tech is thrilled that partnerships with the Cleantech Open Northeast, the Northeast Clean Energy Council, and numerous Maine innovators have opened so many doors for Maine’s green business sector. This year will be a big one for Maine’s energy and environmental innovators. Next up, the Cleantech Open Northeast has already opened applications for its 2016 class. E2Tech will be hosting another Maine launch party soon: join our newsletter so you won’t miss your invitation!
Onward together into 2016!