Cali Cleantech Open Launches, Mayor Issues Challenge

The granddaddy of California’s cleantech contests — the California Cleantech Open — launched its third annual business competition down at San Jose’s city hall last night. It kicked off to the raucous words of San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, encouraging speeches from cleantech investor Steve Jurvetson (our video with him here) and last year’s winner, Cool Earth Solar CEO Eric Cummings. (Jurvetson took the photo of the audience during his speech via Flickr)

The competition takes place throughout the year, offering workshops to young cleantech startups; the judges will select 50 finalists in July, followed by six winners in October. At stake is $600,000 in services and cash for the winners (coined the “Startup-in-a-box” prize) and, more importantly, mentorship, as well as access to future capital to grow their companies (the event is sponsored by no less than 10 venture firms, including Nth Power, DFJ, Mohr Davidow and NGEN).

Mayor Reed took the opportunity to issue a challenge for the solar companies in the room, asking them “to bring to us a way to make it possible for the people of San Jose to install solar on their residences at no net cost,” and threw out a somewhat laughable deadline of 60 days “to figure it out.” With some good policies, it might not be so hard to start to work out the details — if San Francisco unfreezes its solar rebate program, SolarCity says it can install solar on San Francisco homes for no downpayment.

Reed is trying to entice cleantech firms to San Jose in an effort to bring in those much talked-about green jobs to the area. The city wants to add 25,000 cleantech jobs, reduce its electricity consumption by 50 percent and one day get 100 percent of the city’s electricity from renewable sources. Green business is no doubt a hot buzz word, and bringing the competition down to San Jose makes the city look like it’s trying hard to meet those goals.

The California Cleantech Open is also planning on growing outside of the confines of San Jose. Its directors said last night that it has gotten the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to sponsor expansion into other states. Next year, there could be similar year-long business competitions in Seattle, Denver, Ohio, they said. One day they could even go international, to countries like Israel, Switzerland and Denmark.

The E2T team is excited to start profiling this year’s crop of startups, as many of them, such as last year’s winner 1-Solar, end up producing real innovations. We met quite a few new companies at the event last night; potential contenders should feel free to contact us. Don’t forget to get your business plans in by June 14th — so close!

If you missed the event last night, Cool Earth’s Cumming’s and VC Jurvetson had some wise words for potential applicants. Jurvetson reminded the audience that highly successful cleantech companies like BrightSource (which just got that massive PG&E deal), and EnerNOC, which went public last year, once started out like them. Cummings, on the other hand, offered this warning: This summer will be the most hardworking one of your life.