Jan 1, 2007, 12:00am EST
Original article: http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/stories/2007/01/01/story7.html
Two organizations that are out to promote energy innovation by hosting competitions have accidentally found themselves in a contest of their own.
Against each other.
For three years, the MIT Enterprise Forum was running its Ignite Clean Energy (ICE) competition. Its goal is to build a cluster of New England companies geared toward tackling problems of energy creation and efficiency. A $150,000 pot is split annually among five prize-winners. And in addition to cash, winners get coaching on how to pitch plans to venture capitalists.
Then this past November, along came a group of New England-based companies -- including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and venture capital firms General Catalyst Partners, Advanced Technology Ventures and Atlas Venture -- that formed the New England Energy Innovation Collaborative (NEEIC). They launched a business creation competition with a $150,000 prize that includes a $100,000 investment and $50,000 of in-kind professional services such as legal and public relations.
The new competition is open to any entrepreneur or team with a proprietary, innovative energy technology.
Realizing that their contests are more than a little similar, the two groups have been in discussions about how to proceed over the next year.
"We want to avoid confusion in the marketplace and do what's best for the cluster," said Linda Plano, chairwoman of the 2007 ICE competition and associate director of The Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center in Boston.
On Dec. 12, the organizers of the competitions got together. Among those at the table were Jim Walker, Energy Special Interest Group chairman and managing director at the MIT Enterprise Forum; Hemant Taneja, a partner at Cambridge-based General Catalyst Partners who has helped spearhead the NEEIC effort and Bill Aulet, Entrepreneur in Residence and senior lecturer at MIT.
Perhaps ironically, it was Taneja who launched the new competition -- despite being aware of the first one.
He said that while ICE is more grass-roots, focusing on teaching green entrepreneurs how to pitch investors, NEEIC is interested in finding a raw technology and converting it into a company in a timely manner.
"I did sort of create a little chaos, to be honest. The Enterprise Forum said, 'Hey, what about ICE?' " said Taneja.
As a result of the December meeting it was tentatively decided that the two competitions will consider merging next year, although the logistics of that have not been planned. This year's competitions will continue to run separately -- although entrepreneurs are welcome to enter both.
"They looked, to the outside world, too similar, and that's not the idea at all. In the future, we (may) look to merge," said Aulet.
"Short-term, we don't want people to get burned. After everything is said and done, the objectives of both sides is to make New England the most effectively organized that it can be to deal with the energy challenge."
Meanwhile, entries for both competitions are pouring in. NEEIC will name a winner on March 10 and ICE will name theirs on May 1.
"My goal is very simple -- how do we build a world-class cluster in New England in the energy space," said Tenaja. "What I've been trying to do for the last six months is say, OK, there are all these little groups -- how do we do this in a comprehensive and focused way?"