Four Midwest Start-Ups to Split $1 Million in Early Stage Funding

Four start-up companies will split a combined $1 million in early stage investment funding from the Clean Energy Trust. The four were among 14 cleantech ventures that competed for the funding at the CET’s sixth annual Clean Energy Trust Challenge, held last month in Chicago.

Keynote speakers at the event were former Duke Energy Chairman Jim Rogers and Method Products co-founder Adam Lowry. Lowry spoke about how a collaborative business environment can drive innovation in clean energy.

“Now more than ever, we need this type of change,” Lowry said of the CET Challenge. “We’ve got to do better at getting businesses, governments and institutions to invest in renewable energy. Let’s try to do better at working with the infrastructure we’ve got, with the utilities we’ve got, because they want to make this change happen.”

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Winning companies this year were Hazel Technologies, Nexmatix, NovoMoto and SPLT. The four will share $1 million in prize money from a range of foundations, corporations and other funding sources.

“The group of finalists participating in our accelerator program this year is testament to the advanced level of innovation happening in the cleantech space,” Erik Birkerts, CEO of Clean Energy Trust, says in a statement. “Midwestern startups are thriving, and Clean Energy Trust is proud to serve as a launch pad for companies that are leveraging science, innovation and technology to create a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.”

The CET Challenge is an accelerator program and pitch competition that has jump-started more than 80 companies to date. Companies taking part in past Challenges have since raised a combined $86 million in follow-on funding an created more than 300 jobs. CET itself has invested in 29 start-ups across the Midwest.

This year’s winning companies and their details:

Hazel Technologies. The start-up won $500,000 though the Illinois Clean Energy Fund Award. Skokie, Illinois-based Hazel Technologies makes FruitBrite, a container that can extend the shelf life of fruit, vegetables, flowers and plants by two to four times. “When placed in the produce storage space, the FruitBrite pod gradually releases small amounts of an EPA-approved active ingredient that stops the produce aging process and extends shelf life through an ethylene inhibitor delivery system,” according to CET.

CEO and co-founder Aidan Mouat says the money will let Hazel develop its product past the prototype phase. The company should be ready for commercial production “within a couple months,” he tells the Chicago Tribune.

Nexmatix. St Louis-based Nexmatix won three awards totaling $310,000: the $240,000 Wells Fargo Award; $45,000 through the United Airlines and Boeing Sustainable Energy Award; and the $25,000 ComEd Female CEO Award. The company offers products that increase the efficiency of pneumatic systems, which are used by most manufacturers. Nexmatix’s intelligent and energy-efficient pneumatic platform “significantly reduces electricity costs for manufacturers,” according to CET.

SPLT. Based in Detroit, the company won the $100,000 Pritzker Foundation Award. The ridesharing platform works to connect workers with others at the same organization to share their commute, saving them money as well as reducing traffic congestion and CO2 emissions. SPLT was also selected as one of 11 start-ups to pitch to Google at the company’s annual Demo Day in Mountain View, Calif. on May 4, according to Crain’s Detroit Business.

NovoMoto. The company won $90,000 via three awards: $50,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy Cleantech UP Student Award and $20,000 each from the Power Clean Cities Award and the Hanley Family Foundation Award. Madison, Wisc.-based NovoMoto aims to provide renewable electricity to villages in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo, where one of NovoMoto’s founders was born.

The company plans to provide villagers with rechargeable batteries that can power up a cell phone, power a small TV, radio or fan, and provide up to six hours of lighting through three 3-watt LED bulbs. Villagers can bring their batter to a solar-powered charging station, set up by NovoMoto, to exchange the depleted battery with a fully charged one.

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