FLoW Competition Winners Announced
The First Look West (FLoW) regional finals competition awarded $200,000 in prize money to budding clean energy entrepreneurs at an awards celebration held at Caltech on May 1, 2012. Stanford Nitrogen took first place honors by developing an innovative way to addresses the problem of nitrogen runoff, which causes "dead zones" in waterways. Their process relies on a novel combination of microbes that have the potential to reduce the cost of treating nitrogen by 50 percent while generating nitrous oxide, a new energy source never before considered in the management of wastewater. Second place went to Greenbotics, a team from UCLA and Caltech. This company tapped into the $3 billion global market opportunity in cleaning dirty solar panels at solar power plants, with their cleaning service that centers on a robotic vehicle. The robot drives directly on top of rows of solar panels to clean them using very little water, no gasoline and minimal human assistance. Third place went to UC Berkeley's Xite Solar. This team developed a new class of solar cells. By fine-tuning the junctions between the materials comprising today's commercial thin film cells, Xite can improve efficiencies by 20 to 40 percent.
FLoW represents the Western Region of the DOE's National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition (NCEBPC). The winning teams from six regions across the country will now participate in the National Competition in Washington DC taking place June 12-13. The FLoW awards event was the culmination of a six-month competitive process searching for the untapped clean energy innovation that lies in American universities. In its first year, FLoW attracted 83 applicants from 34 universities across twelve states. Professor Harry Atwater, Director of Caltech's Resnick Sustainability Institute—a major sponsor of FLoW—said, "Successful competitions such as this show how universities, working with investors and the business community, are leaders in accelerating innovation flow to the real world, and in launching our future entrepreneurial leaders".
The FLoW competition was judged by a top panel of seasoned entrepreneurs, industry experts, and investors including representatives from Mohr Davidow, Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Sierra Ventures, CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund, the Angeleno Group and Southern California's Pasadena and Tech Coast Angels. In addition to prize money, FLoW partners offered contestants consultation with experienced mentors, legal start-up packages with firms such as Morrison & Foerester and the opportunity to pitch to investors ready to take action and work with the teams. FLoW's Partners such as the Cleantech Open (CTO) and UC Davis's Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy (GTEA) have provided places for finalists in premier entrepreneurial programs for commercializing green tech innovations. Selected contestants also enjoy access to facilities and services in the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), the city's new innovation center supporting the cleantech entrepreneur. LACI's Executive Director Fred Walti says: "We are proud to be a member of the FLOW team, and are impressed by the entrepreneurs and innovators from throughout the region who participated. LACI is excited to help propel these student-founded startups into the marketplace."
At the Regional Awards Celebration, keynote speaker and judge Andrew Chung, Partner at Khosla Ventures, captured the tone of the competition during an address that touched on the importance of creative thinking. "Entrepreneurship shouldn't be about extrapolating the past, but rather inventing the future," Chung said. "Startups shouldn't let the word of the 'experts' or conventional 'wisdom' constrain them from imagining new possibilities." FloW is the largest clean energy business plan competition for university students in the Western United States. The Resnick Sustainability Institute is proud to have played an integral role in sponsoring and bringing the competition events to Caltech. We look forward to the growth and success of the FloW program and continuing to actively support student entrepreneurship in sustainable energy.