Will a startup finally make fusion energy a reality? The 2013 Cleantech Open has judged this and other companies worthy of advancing to a national competition in November.

The finalists named below all completed an accelerator program for cleantech startups that began this summer. Each regional finalist wins a prize package with a mix of seed investment and in-kind services worth up to $20,000. On November 19 two dozen winners from eight regions around the U.S. will convene in San Jose, CA to network with potential investors and vie for prizes as large as $200,000 in value. Since 2006, 727 startups have completed Cleantech Open programs.

Pacific Northwest

(Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington)

The Pacific Northwest regional winners were announced at an event in downtown Portland, OR.

Phytelligence, Pullman, WA 

Cleantech Open 2013
From left to right: Dr. Amit Dinghra and Tyson Koepke of Phytelligence with award presenters John Fleming of Wells Fargo and Jennifer Spaith of Dorsey Whitney. (CTO photo)

This Washington State University spinoff appeals to my alter-ego sustainable forester with a head-start program for tree seedlings. Phytelligence has developed a way to start young trees (commercial plantings for timber, fruit and nuts) faster and better than conventional methods.

I talked with the company’s founder, Dr. Amit Dhingra, who explained how he applies soil-less tissue-culture processes to propagate and distribute superior quality plant stock with guaranteed genotype. Phytelligence also offers sophisticated genetic analysis services for intellectual property protection and variety identification.

By minimizing mix-ups, reducing mortality and reducing time to tree delivery from over five years to under two, their innovation can result in significant additional revenue for the farmer. They already have achieved significant validation and early-stage investment from their customers.


Helion Energy, Redmond, WA

Cleantech Open 2013
From right to left: Chris Pihl and Dr. David Kirtley of Helion Energy with award presenter Jennifer Spaith of Dorsey Whitney. (CTO photo)

A team with lengthy experience from University of Washington and Mathematical Sciences Northwest have developed a break-through fusion energy device. You know about fusion energy, the clean power source that’s always 50 years and 50 billion dollars from commercialization. Helion Energy  has designed their device from the top down to be practical using well-understood physics.

I spoke with founder Dr. David Kirtley at the awards event. He explained that Helion Energy’s fusion technology will be commercially deployable within six years. Their new approach generates fusion by accelerating two specialized plasmas into a central chamber where they are further compressed with a magnetic field, raising heat and density to levels required for self-sustaining fusion and energy release.

Dr. Kirtley says the power plant design is compact, modular and competitive in today’s market. The Helion Energy machine runs on a fuel found in every day water — a molecular variant of hydrogen.

Unlike nuclear fission, scientists believe fusion reactions will use very small amounts of fuel and leave behind relatively little toxic waste. Helion’s technology has received $5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Western Region

(California, Nevada, Hawaii)

Out of its 96 entrants, the Western region named four semifinalists at an event in Fremont, CA, and included a networking mixer at the Tesla factory.

Western Cleantech Open semifinalists photo
Western Cleantech Open semifinalists celebrate in Fremont, CA. Left to right: Erik Steeb, Cleantech Open; Daniel Maren, Dragonfly Systems; Andrew Ponec, Dragonfly Systems; Darren Hau, Dragonfly Systems; Eric Mansfield, Dragonfly Systems; Jim Davis, Chevron Energy Solutions; Kim Marconi, TylerCo; Richard Ashoff, TylerCo; Bril Wang, Polymer Green; Heng Liu, Polymer Green; Olivier Jerphagnon, PowWow Energy; Brad Gaiser, PowWow Energy; Rex Northen, Cleantech Open. (CTO photo)

Dragonfly Systems

Dragonfly Systems eliminates mismatch losses on large solar installations through power electronics devices installed on the back of each solar module. They cost-effectively boost power output and enhance O&M through high-resolution data collection.

Polymer Green

PolymerGreen provides a superior way to handle all types of waste plastic, especially those that are low grade, difficult to recycle, end of life, or unsorted. Their solution turns low-value waste plastic to high-value alternative fuels, eliminating waste and capturing value. Polymer Green also won the Audience Choice Award.

PowWow Energy

PowWow Energy allows farmers and ranchers to quickly detect water leaks that can destroy an entire crop or damage property. Unlike competing solutions that use hardware sensors, PowWow’s the software-as-a-service (SaaS) mines data from smart power meters attached to water pumps using the Green Button standard interface and proprietary algorithms. It quickly detects anomalies and sends alarm text messages in case of failures.  pays for itself in water and energy savings.

TylerCo, Inc.

TylerCo’s BANFAlite is a direct replacement for existing 4ft T-8 and T-12 lamps. The BANFAlite LED replacement lamp has produced documented savings of greater than 90 percent over existing typical traditional fluorescent fixtures with just a simple lamp change. The motion sensor technology in each lamp instantly transforms existing fixtures into bi-level energy-saving devices. Power consumption drops to 5 watts when stairwells are unoccupied and 25 watts when occupied.

Lucent Optics – Sustainability Award

Lucent Optics has developed next-generation thin-film solar modules.

The above four will advance from the Western region to the national competition. The region also named these category winners:
Ag, Water, Waste: Polymer Green
Chemistry & Advanced Materials: Shape Change Technologies
Energy Efficiency: TylerCo, Inc.
Energy Distribution & Storage: ARES North America
Energy Generation: Dragonfly Systems
Green Building: ArmaTerra Geo Reinforcing
Information & Communications Tech: PowWow Energy
Transportation: NuMotor Technologies

Midwest Regions

(Central: Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio; North: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin)


Well-attended pitch presentations at the Midwest regional Cleantech Open. (CTO photo)
Well-attended pitch presentations at the Midwest regional Cleantech Open. (CTO photo)

The Midwest Regions selected finalists from a field of 21 startups. Finalists were announced at the 4th Annual Midwest Innovation Summit event in Minneapolis, which convened over 75 innovators including the 2013 accelerator class of start-ups with investors and corporate managers, media, civic leaders and many others from throughout the Midwestern business community.

Ornicept, Ann Arbor, MI

Ornicept’s GeoTraverse product eliminates costly data collection bottlenecks and elegantly brings data from the field to the cloud.

Prairie AquaTech, Brookings, SD

This animal health and nutrition company is focused on upgrading agriculture processing of by-products.


Heidi Lubin, CEO of HEVT (2012 Cleantech Open Grand Prize Winner) gets feedback from Aner Bin-ami of Pi Investments during the Midwest region's "Investor and Partner Connect" session. (CTO photo)
Heidi Lubin, CEO of HEVT (2012 Cleantech Open Grand Prize Winner) gets feedback from Aner Bin-ami of Pi Investments during the Midwest region’s “Investor and Partner Connect” session. (CTO photo)

Akhan Tech, Hoffman Estates, IL

Akhan Tech has developed energy efficient diamond semiconductor devices for consumer electronics.

Garden Fresh Farms,  Maplewood, MN – Sustainability Award.

This team is an OEM for a national network of indoor hydroponic farms.

People’s Choice Award: Effortless Energy, Chicago, IL

The company’s finance and software-as-a-service allows contractors to better serve the home energy efficiency market.



Southeast Region

(Alabama, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia)

Twenty  contestants narrowed down to five in the Southeast Region:

Trash 2 Cash Energy, Tampa, FL — Catalytic production of renewable feedstock to energy. Received both finalist and sustainability awards.

Fiveworx, Knoxville, TN Fiveworx is the developer of a product called “Do 5 Things,” is a marketing optimization platform for utilities looking to increase rebate redemption and encourage behavior change.

Bio-Adhesive Alliance Inc., Greensboro, NC The Bio Adhesive Alliance is a manufacturer of a green, low cost, and durable construction adhesive called PiGrid.

Nova Synthetix, Chapel Hill, NC Nova Synthetix is commercializing a non-toxic castor plant that produces a unique fatty acid in its seed oil that is used as a high-value chemical feedstock.

Tethis, Raleigh, NC Tethis is focused on developing a desalination product for natural gas fracking and other industry applications.

Northeast Region

(Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont)

NBD Nanotechnologies – Chemicals & Advanced Materials

Hevo Power – Energy Distribution & Storage

Sealed – Energy Efficiency

Rocky Mountain Region

(Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming)

OptiEnz Sensors – Agriculture, Waste, Water

Grannus – Chemicals & Advanced Materials

HJ3 Composite Technologies – Chemicals & Advanced Materials

South Central Region

(Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas)

Pica Solar – Energy Efficiency

Elequa – Sustainability Winner


More on the energy business.


The author, Denis DuBois, is a volunteer coach and judge for teams completing the Cleantech Open startup business accelerator and competition.