Open for business

CleanTech Open

Hampden Kuhns, CEO of Load IQ, spoke about his experience at the Reno launch event.

Hampden Kuhns, CEO of Load IQ, spoke about his experience at the Reno launch event.


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CleanTech Open, a competition to encourage innovation in the green sector, launched in Nevada on March 22. Launch events were held at Desert Research Institute branches in Las Vegas and Reno.

CleanTech Open, which was founded as part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Ignite Clean Energy competition, partnered with the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization (NIREC) to bring the program to Nevada. It’s a non-profit organization led by a team of volunteers and a small staff. The program gives start-up business owners an opportunity to participate in a training program where they work with lawyers, accountants, public relation specialists and other professional mentors to cover all aspects of making their business successful. Some of the businesses are then chosen to compete in a regional competition, and a few move on to a Global Forum. The winning business receives $250,000 and will often get offers from larger companies looking to invest.

CleanTech Open’s motto is “find, fund and foster” new green businesses with the intent of stimulating the economy. Only established start-up businesses can compete, and they have to receive less than $1 million from external funding to qualify.

“The CleanTech Open has an outstanding reputation doing what we all want to do, which is create jobs,” said Chip Evans, director of CleanTech Open Nevada.

Currently, businesses can compete in the fields of renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building, transportation, smart power, and air, water and waste. Evans also mentioned that agriculture and material science may be added as a field in the future.

Prior to the Nevada launch, Northern Nevada businesses had to travel to Silicon Valley to participate in the program. Now they will be able to use local resources and will also still be able to network with Silicon Valley.

“I think it’s going to make a huge difference for entrepreneurs in the state,” said Nicola Kerslake, entrepreneur-in-residence of NIREC.

Hampden Kuhns, CEO of Load IQ, participated in last year’s competition and attested to the program’s educational value.

“[We learned] how to write a business plan and a financial plan,” Kuhns said. “It’s all part of figuring out, ‘Will this work?’”

Kuhns said that the mentoring team helped him “ask the right questions.” His company’s air quality product was originally intended to be used in household residences, but based on the suggestions of the mentors, the focus switched to fast food restaurants.

“You start out with a business plan, but you adapt it as you go along,” he said.

CleanTech Open also hosts a student competition. The California Institute of Technology currently holds the winning title, but CleanTech Open Nevada officials hope that Nevada’s colleges and universities will be able to bring something new to the western region.

Ultimately, Evans anticipates that CleanTech Open will give Nevada business owners exposure and will spark new ideas in the state.

“There are a lot of challenges in raising capital,” Evans says. “It takes discipline to put business plans together. There’s a certain science to that, a certain art to that.”

The entry deadline for this year’s competition is May 8.