MIT Clean Energy Prize Narrows Cleantech Innovators Field

The race is on for 15 teams competing in this year’s MIT Clean Energy Prize. Now in its fifth year, the competition helps launch clean companies, in no small part due to the generous purse that is provided to the winners. Open to all university students, the business plan competition aims to bring viable businesses into the market that reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and ultimately, lower carbon emissions.

In addition to winning $200,000, this year’s winner will also compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition in Washington DC. The event is part of a White House initiative known as Startup America, that works to accelerate entrepreneurship.

Wind Turbines

image via Shutterstock

But first, companies must prove themselves in the MIT competition, which is co-sponsored by NSTAR and the U.S. Department of Energy. This year, fifteen semifinalist teams from over a dozen universities are working to improve solar, wind and wave energy technologies; maximize energy efficiency in buildings and automobiles; and commercialize a new method of carbon sequestration.

The companies are currently in the mentoring portion of the competition. During this time, teams receive mentoring from leading clean energy experts and venture capitalists to help sharpen their entrepreneurial skills. Next, three category winners will be chosen in the Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency and Development and Infrastructure categories. Each of these companies will be awarded $20,000 before going on to compete for the $200,000 grand prize on April 30th in Boston.

Thin Film Solar

image via Empa

Over the past five years the competition has helped launch dozens of new companies, who have together raised nearly $90 million in venture capital and government funding to develop clean energy products, technologies and services.

Notable past winners include C3Nano, the 2010 winner and developer of a transparent electrode material that can help to make photovoltaic solar panels more cheaply and effectively. The company’s technology is based on new carbon nanotube technology that is said to increase the efficiency of thin-film solar panels by more than 1 percent.

The compeition’s 2008 winner is no less impressive. FloDesign created a wind turbine that can generate up to four times more electricity than current wind turbines on the market. In addition to winning funding from the competition, the company was also awarded $8.3 million from  ARPA-E for creating a transformational renewable energy project. The result could mean more wind turbines in locations with limited land availability, such as big-box stores.


Kristy Hessman is a writer and native Oregonian who currently resides in California. Before starting her own company, she worked as a reporter covering business and politics for daily newspapers and The Associated Press.

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