Since its founding in 2005, the CleanTech Open has been a significant resource for startups looking to upgrade their business skills and give them exposure to a bench of experts, mentors, and investors.  Participating in the CTO program more than doubles the chances of success for a startup.  The CTO programs begin with applications in the Spring and end with awards in November.  Ken Hayes, the National CEO for the Clean Tech Open, in our March 4 Perspectives discussion presented why startups should apply and how to do it for the 2021 cycle.  Each year they accept 100 companies.  The deadline is April 18.  You can apply by clicking here.

The CTO is intended for startups at the pre-revenue, pre-seed investment level.  They provide a window to the much larger world of cleantech venturing and provide access to over 1000 volunteers and coaches and a “network of networks”.  They are very good at arranging “speed dating” with investors at their Showcase each fall.  The core of their program is the 12-week training program, educating startup teams on the Lean Business Canvas Model and coaching them in creating a fundable business plan.  The national $50,000 first-place winner from last year was Coreshell Technologies in Berkeley.  There are also many regional competions that precede the big national runoff, with more prizes offered there.  In the Western Region which includes California, the Clean Tech Open is hosted by the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator or LACI as the CTO Partner.  

In 15 years the CTO has educated over 1600 startups, that have raised a combined total of $1.2 billion in investment.  Among those still moving forward is Adura Technologies, a winner from our very first CleanStart competition in 2006.  We operate as a feeder to CTO and get companies started on a path that will make them more competitive by the time they apply.  We also help companies enter the CalSEED Concept Award competition, which gives teams a no-cost ticket to enter the CTO.  Otherwise, making an application will cost $75 and then another $1350 if a team is accepted into the program. 

Ken Hayes gave a lot more hints on how to do well in the CTO and his entire discussion is recorded and available below.  Make sure to check out and subscribe to our social media channels.

Thomas Hall


Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStarts Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

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College of Engineering & Computer Science at Sacramento State