Every year, the Cleantech Open highlights their top cleantech entrepreneurs at the Global Forum, with startups competing from across the world for the top accolades in renewable energy, agriculture, water, applied materials, transportation, Internet of Things and green buildings. Green Eatz has been involved as a volunteer and staff member annually since 2012, and this year was no exception.
Innovation in the LA Arts District
This year, the Cleantech Open Global Forum moved out of the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles for the first time. The event took place at La Kretz Innovation Campus in the heart of the up-and-coming Arts District in Downtown LA. Home of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), the center is an oasis of innovation in this drab semi-industrial area. As the new parent company of Cleantech Open, LACI offers support to later stage startups and gives the opportunity to Cleantech Open graduates to enter its incubator program.
On Sunday February 28, the event kicked-off with closed-door judging of the three programs, the US National Accelerator, the United Nations sponsored Global Cleantech Innovation Program and the Global Ideas program. Green Eatz took on the role of timekeeper for the judging of the top US teams, selected from six categories, one of whom would become the Grand Prize winner.
The highlight was Diana Yousef’s presentation on the waterless, low-cost, compact toilet created by change:Water Labs. This toilet uses dehydration techniques to reduce the waste volume and odor so that you can put ‘the crap in a wrap’ as she so succinctly put it! It is shocking to hear that 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have safe access to a toilet. This is particularly difficult for women, especially at school age, and leads to 20-40% of teenage girls dropping out of school in some areas.
Speed Dating for Funding
On day two, Green Eatz was involved with the Investor Connect, a series of speed-dating sessions that connect startups with the investor ‘most likely to’. This was very serious business for the entrepreneurs as they have just 7 minutes to impress the investor. It was also very hard on the feet – as I can attest to personally!
Out in the marquee, many of the startups showcased their ideas at the Expo. Green Eatz was invited to visit the all-electric plane being built by Ampaire, in the next-door warehouse, a reminder of the hard graft that goes into each and every cleantech prototype.
Female Founders from the Developing World
The final day was all about the Awards! In the more glamorous surroundings of The LA Hotel, all the teams came together to celebrate their achievements in cleantech. Bertrand Piccard (by video) and Marion Enderlein (in person), of Solar Impulse, presented their vision to offer #1000Solutions to this year’s COP24. There, they plan to share sustainability innovations with governments and policy leaders – so I am sure many of the startups will be entering this challenge too.
In the Global Cleantech Innovation Program, the big increase in female founders was highlighted when four out of the six tracks were won by female-led startups. The overall winner Saathi Eco Innovations, another female co-founder, has created 100% biodegradable sanitary pads made from banana fiber waste! The friendly team from Gracious Nubian, with a female founder, also concentrated on women’s issues with a washable, re-usable sanitary pad.
Windows Winner in the US
In contrast, the European and US teams were dominated by male founders, and concentrated their energies on more prosaic ideas such as energy switching and foam insulation. The Grand Prize winner Inovues had a very practical idea to save energy and improve the appearance of large multi-occupancy buildings – stick new window-panels on the outside! Congratulations to Anas Al Kassas, who has achieved so much after leaving his beleaguered native country of Syria.
And finally, I must give a shout out to the charming father and son team of Tommy and Aiko Bernehed from Hyperion Energy. Their idea of a giant thermal solar battery created from coal and steel plant waste is surely one that could have massive impact on solar power generation.
It was a great few days learning about the latest innovations, meeting entrepreneurs and reconnecting with friends and colleagues. See you next year!