Department of Energy Awards $2 Million for National University Clean Energy Business Challenge to Jump Start Young Entrepreneurship

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced $2 million over three years for six regional awardees to create and administer a network of student-focused business creation competitions and inspire young entrepreneurs to found innovative, clean energy companies. Announced by DOE’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Dr. Henry Kelly, at a clean energy jobs event at the University of Florida-Gainesville yesterday, the six regional competitions will encourage students from across the country to develop successful business plans and join a new generation of American clean energy leaders. This national initiative, part of the Obama Administration’s campaign to inspire and promote entrepreneurship called Startup America, will provide student participants with the skills needed to create new businesses and transform promising energy technologies from U.S. universities and national laboratories into innovative energy products that will help to create jobs, boost American competitiveness, and strengthen our economy.

“By promoting innovation at our nation’s universities and cultivating America’s next generation scientific and technical leaders, we will ensure our nation’s competiveness in the clean energy economy of tomorrow,” said Kelly. “The awards announced today support the Administration’s continued effort to ensure that America has the workforce we need to secure our energy future, create jobs here at home, and win the future.”

The winners announced today represent the Department’s first ever funding for regional competitions that will funnel into a DOE National Competition. The new regional competitions build on DOE’s history of supporting the MIT Clean Energy Prize as a part of a strategy to establish broader innovation and commercialization efforts, and to build a nation-wide energy entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The regional competitions aim to connect student teams with opportunities to accelerate clean energy technologies developed at universities and national labs into the marketplace and to mentor young entrepreneurs in the business of clean energy innovation. The regional competitions will be completed by May 1, 2012. Panels of expert judges will select a winning team from each region to advance to the finals. The six regional winners will each receive $100,000 in DOE prize money and a chance to compete for a National Grand Prize at a competition held at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. in early summer 2012.

Each of the following selected regional competitions will receive $360,000 over 3 years to host their respective regional competition:

  • Northeast Region Winner: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
    This awardee which has successfully run the DOE and NSTAR sponsored MIT Clean Energy Prize for the past four years, will continue to build upon its renowned competition by actively engaging student energy communities throughout the Northeast, working to create a regional ecosystem of energy entrepreneurs, and by sharing and refining best practices with the other regional competitions.
  • Southeast Region Winner: University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
    The ACC Clean Energy Challenge will use the competitive nature of a collegiate sports conference as a model build off an existing foundation of clean energy research and entrepreneurship programs to catalyze student innovation across the southeast region.
  • Eastern Midwest Region Winner: Clean Energy Trust (Chicago, Illinois)
    This competition, Clean Energy Student Challenge, will capitalize on experience from three existing competitions including the Clean Energy Challenge, the Cleantech Open, and the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge. The competition will also draw heavy support from regional researchers, venture capitalists, industry leaders, and entrepreneurs.
  • Western Southwest Region Winner: Rice University (Houston, Texas)
    This project will take its existing world class Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC) and create the DOE Clean Energy Prize, institutionalizing a sustained clean energy track within the RBPC while leveraging the existing resources—more than $1 million in prizes and over 250 judges—to catalyze clean energy technologies in the entire region.
  • Western Midwest Region Winner: University of Colorado (Boulder, Colorado)
    This competition supports the University of Colorado – Boulder’s CU Cleantech New Venture Challenge, an annual student-based cleantech competition that helps develop partnerships between regional entrepreneurs and innovators with universities, national laboratories, and other organizations.
  • Western Region Winner: California Institute of Technology (Los Angeles, California)
    This competition, First Look West (FLoW), will adopt the best practices and draw on the success of various other existing regional competitions. It will be administered by the California Institute of Technology, in partnership with University of Southern California and University of California – Los Angeles.

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. See the Funding Opportunity Announcement about DOE’s efforts to promote a new generation of energy entrepreneurs and EERE’s Commercialization website.

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