Last week, we partnered with the Cleantech Open to host its 2017 Western Region Awards & Innovation Showcase, the culmination of Cleantech Open’s annual accelerator program in the West.

The event took place in our Innovation District, the core of Fremont’s rapid and ongoing evolution into Silicon Valley’s hub for advanced hardware development and manufacturing — the place where hardware startups go to scale.

This year, the event featured over 40early-stage cleantech startups, including 16 cleantech startups from the 2017 accelerator cohort that participated in our 2017 showcasing competition.

The two-day event began on Monday with closed-door judging, “speed-dating” between investors and Western Region startups, and a VIP networking reception. The public event on Tuesday began with an Innovation Showcase in the morning followed by our annual Awards Celebration, an impressive lineup of speakers, and an “Academy Awards” style announcement of our Western Region winners.

This year’s speaker program highlighted California’s expanding leadership in cleantech innovation, including a fireside chat between Ira Ehrenpreis, Managing Partner of DBL Partners, and Matt Petersen, CEO of LACI, a cleantech commercialization support panel, and a keynote by Matt Petersen on LA’s important role in advancing California’s cleantech commercialization leadership.

The conversations were wide-ranging and insightful. Ehrenpreis, a pioneer in cleantech investment, remains bullish on this category, citing unprecedented growth potential, given the tremendous infrastructure still needed to power the 21st century. He walked the entrepreneur-rich audience through the market drivers he considers when making investments:

  • Policy dynamics: Where states like California and cities like Fremont are leading the way
  • Trends in innovation: Cost reductions have been the most striking example of this
  • Engagement of corporate strategic partners: We’ve come a long way from companies just “green washing” to sincerely embracing sustainability goals
  • Human capital: aka the entrepreneurs themselves, who decide on, not default to, entrepreneurship — “the lifeblood of the investor”

Both the panel discussion and Petersen’s closing remarks provided a good overview of the resources and support available for cleantech startups. Leading incubators, including LACI, Cyclotron Road and Prospect Silicon Valley, each described their models and articulated distinguishing factors from technology orientations to which stage of growth they are most focused on (think early versus even earlier!). Fremont’s own Kelly Kline added another perspective, emphasizing the important role cities can play in helping a company scale, depending on their expertise.

But, of course, the most gratifying part of the event was the announcement of the winners. This year, Cleantech Open’s Western Region conferred three awards for overall excellence. Award winners received $10K in cash and services and advance to represent the Western Region at the Global Forum, a National and Global competition, which will take place in January at LACI’s La Kretz Innovation Campus in downtown Los Angeles.

This year’s regional award winners are:

  • Novasolix: Provides low-cost and clean electricity by converting sunlight to electricity by using photons, which hit carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and drive electrons along the CNTs then through high-speed diodes
  • Opcondys: Developing the opticondistor (OTV), a revolutionary power switching device for original equipment manufacturers that make high-voltage equipment
  • Tiny Farms: Pioneering the scalable production of insects for use in food, feed and industry as a sustainable alternative protein

In addition, Cleantech Open conferred four honors, recognizing excellence in a specific dimension of performance:

Finally, the audience of 170+ cleantech innovation and entrepreneurship insiders selected a People’s Choice winner from among the six startups nominated for the Western Region Awards.

  • CarbonBLU: A Sustainable Fleet app that empowers fleet decision makers with the tools they need to reduce operating costs and environmental impact