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April 01, 2014 | Tom Ballard

Region should take advantage of “Cleantech Open” opportunity

Cleantech Open SEBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

A small but energetic group showed-up Tuesday night at Tech 20/20 for the kickoff of this year’s Southeastern portion of the “Cleantech Open” competition.

Attendees came from the Knoxville-Oak Ridge community as well as Chattanooga, Johnson City, and Tullahoma to hear Rochelle Blaustein, a former U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) administrator and “Cleantech Open” volunteer, and Patrick Hunt, Chief Executive Officer of Knoxville-based Fiveworx.

“You get out of it what you put into it,” Hunt said. “It’s imminently valuable to the entrepreneurs who go through the process. It’s a fantastic program.”

Fiveworx was one of 22 companies that made it to the 2013 “Cleantech Open” finals.

For Blaustein, it was return visit to a region that she interacted with during her DOE service and has come to respect for its entrepreneurial spirit.

“You are doing amazing things here,” she told the group in referencing both the local region and the state of Tennessee.

Blaustein described the “Cleantech Open” finds, funds and fosters entrepreneurs. It is both a competition and accelerator, offering training, mentoring, access to capital, and visibility for start-ups.

Deadline to apply is May 1, with participants selected and announced May 21. Teams invited into the program must send two members to one of two National Academies. For more information and to apply, click here.

Hunt described the application as “fairly intensive.” Saying he was “thrilled to be accepted, the competition was secondary to the other things (offered)” – access to speakers at programs, mentors, advice and connections.

“The ‘Cleantech Open’ process forced us to listen,” Hunt said. “The mock judging competition was really beneficial.”

In the case of the latter, he noted the value of the off-the-record advice Fiveworx got on its investor strategy during the mock process and the connections he made during the regional finals.

“People like Rochelle commit countless volunteer hours,” Hunt said, adding that he hoped the region could develop a clean energy cluster. The clear implication was more start-ups need to take advantage of the “Cleantech Open.”

Both Hunt and Blaustein said the region would benefit by capturing attention from the investment community if more companies like Fiveworx participate in the annual “Cleantech Open.”

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