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Clean-technology companies chase national awards

John Seelmeyer

Five northern Nevada companies that are developing products ranging from plant-based lubricants to building-automation systems that save energy are in the midst of an intense summer-long training regimen.

Their goal: Prizes that range from $20,000 to $250,000 in cash and services in a national competition known as Cleantech Open.

This marks the first year that the competition has specifically targeted Nevada companies, although several startups from the state in the past traveled to Cleantech Open events in California.

Chip Evans, Nevada director of Cleantech Open, says he was surprised at the strong response the event drew in its first year in Nevada, especially because the promotional effort got a late start.

The six Nevada semifinalists one from Las Vegas, five from northern California were selected from a field of 16 applicants.

Twelve of those applicants were invited to participate in the Cleantech training and mentoring process, and six of them decided to make the commitment, says Evans.

They include:

* MagBoard LLC, a Reno company that manufactures structural construction products that meet new fire and energy codes.

* Discovery Carbon Environmental Securities Corp. of Zephyr Cove, which is working with dairy farmers and feedlot operators to plant trees that generate carbon credits and also generate revenues through sale of wood products.

* Yelo Velo, a Reno company that manufactures patented plant-based lubricants for bicycle and household markets.

* H2 Technologies, a Sparks company that’s developed an efficient way to generate hydrogen for use in vehicles.

* C2esoft, a Reno company that’s developing software and hardware to automate and improve energy efficiency in the operation of buildings.

* Seanic View Inc., a Las Vegas company that’s developed a highly efficient electric motor design.

Executives of the participating companies have been getting industrial-strength training in subjects ranging from technology validation to financial analysis and modeling in seminars and Webinars this summer.

They’ve also been working with volunteer mentors.

David Chase, a managing member of MagBoard LLC, says Cleantech Open has challenged the assumptions of the company’s founders and helped them focus their plans.

“We came in thinking that we knew our markets, knew our customers, and it has opened our eyes onto new ways to look at how we are going to define our segments, focus our messaging, find our customers,” Chase says.

John Toth of Discovery Carbon Environmental Securities Corp. says that his company’s participation also has helped him find potential customers and technology partners.

Evans says the Cleantech semifinalists in Nevada range from very early-stage startups to well-developed companies that are ready to bring their products to the market.

Later this year, the Cleantech semifinalists will compete for regional prizes $20,000 for regional finalists, another $10,000 for regional winners. Regional winners will compete for $250,000 in cash and services awarded to a national grand prize winner.

More than 350 companies nationwide applied to participate in Cleantech Open this year. Founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in 2005, Cleantech Open now operates in seven regions of the United States, and only the Rust Belt and Deep South don’t offer the competition.

Evans says that while Cleantech Open is focused on creation of strong young companies, the program also helps build an infrastructure engineers, investors, legal and financial experts, entrepreneurs that will support the growth of more new companies.

“There is a very concentrated network of people who are paying attention to Cleantech,” says Evans, a one-time Silicon Valley executive.

The program is important, too, in demonstrating to venture capitalists that northern Nevada has enough startup activity to warrant an occasional airline flight from San Jose to Reno, Evans says.

“They don’t currently perceive that there is much going on here,” he says.

He says the current crop of Cleantech Open semifinalists in Nevada aren’t alone. At least three of the Nevada companies who decided not to invest the $1,000 and time required of semifinalists this year are likely to return next year.