The week before last I participated as a judge for the finalists in this year’s 2010 Cleantech Open national competition. At first, the daunting task of reading 18 business plans (20+ pages each) in less than one week had me asking myself “Why I am doing this?” But once I started to delve into the plans, it became incredibly interesting to read about the various ideas and technologies that some very bright people have been working on.

A little history—18 finalists competed in the following categories: energy efficiency, air, water and waste, renewable energy, transportation, smart power and green building. Competitors came from five regions in the United States: California, Northwest, Rocky Mountain, Northeast and North Central. Each company was allotted 15 minutes to present their pitch to the 12 judges. Judges were then allowed 15 minutes for questions and answers. Finally, the judges gave five minutes at most of feedback to each company regarding their presentation and business plan. Times were strictly adhered to due to the packed two-day schedule.

Judging the finalists was much more difficult than assessing the semifinalists. All contestants were well prepared. Several have already sold products to customers and were able to demonstrate their products to the judges, including the electric vehicle! Many had products that can be used by people in their day-to-day lives such as the water purifying system from Puralytics (winner of the contest) and the automatic tire inflation system from Pressure Sentinel.

The judges were amazing and represented a variety of companies and backgrounds, including investors (VC and corporate), attorneys, finance, banking and government. All had extensive experience in the cleantech arena and brought that depth of experience to the judging. Criteria in judging included the opportunity for significant business return; exciting, potentially disruptive or “game-changing” sizzle; and sustainability.

All in all, the two days were fun and well worth the time and effort in judging. Go to for a list of winners and more information about each of the finalists.

I just finished judging the semifinalists in transportation category of the Cleantech Open, a national business plan competition for start-ups and emerging companies. It was a difficult task due to the diversity of the eight contestants, which included a range of technologies (from engines and advanced vehicle technologies) as well as companies almost ready to go to market and some that may take years to get there. (See the list of all semifinalists.)

The first-place winner was Pressure Sentinel, which helps truckers get higher fuel efficiency by helping keep their tire pressure at the proper level. Pressure Sentinel stood above the others due to their technology, ability to get to market quickly and understanding of their market niche. Look for big things from them in the future. Conderos, which provides lead-free cellulosic fuel for propeller aircraft, was the runner-up.

The next step for Pressure Sentinel is competing with other regional winners for the top spot in the National Cleantech Open. The winner will be announced at the awards gala November 17 in San Jose that includes demos by the finalists and technology exhibits. See the list of finalists and learn more at the Cleantech Open website.