MIT Clean Energy Prize and Greentown Labs: From Word of Mouth to Eight Member Companies

Greentown Labs began with four startups – three from MIT – banding together to find space to build prototypes.  The ties have only deepened through word of mouth as ideas and inventions, born at MIT, turn into startups that need space, resources, and a deeper network to grow.  Fortunately, a growing collaboration between the MIT Clean Energy Prize and Greentown Labs is helping to make that transition more seamless.

Many MIT CEP graduates have landed at Greentown Labs

The collaboration between the CEP and Greentown Labs is a natural fit:  eight Greentown Labs member companies are CEP semi-finalists, track winners, or the grand prize winners.  We believe it is the highest concentration of winners in one place anywhere in the world.  They include:  Sistine Solar, Visolis, OpenWater Power, Altaeros Energies, Vecarius, OsComp Systems, Promethean Power Systems, and Agira.

No doubt CEP is generating one of the most dynamic and durable startup pipelines for Greentown Labs.

CEP and Greentown share a common vision to solve today’s biggest challenge. The MIT Clean Energy Prize serves as a catalyst to significantly accelerate the pace of energy innovation and entrepreneurship. Started in 2007, the annual prize competition is developing a new generation of energy entrepreneurs and new companies — as is Greentown.  CEP works because it stimulates productive relationships between academic, community, industry, and government organizations with strong interests in meeting the world’s energy challenge through innovation and entrepreneurship.

The CEP competition is run entirely for students by students.  The idea for it was conceived by the MIT Entrepreneurship Center and made a reality through a partnership between the MIT $100k Entrepreneurship Competition, The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and the generous support from the U.S. Department of Energy and NSTAR.

Strong Greentown Labs Support of MIT CEP

This year, Emily Reichert, Executive Director, and Mark Vasu, Executive Vice President, Greentown Labs were on hand to cheer on the finalists and award winners at the ceremony held on April 28 at the Sheraton Boston Hotel.  The CEP awarded more than $300,000 – including a $225,000 Grand Prize to Unified Solar– all student ventures aimed at reducing energy consumption or helping transition to a renewables-based economy.

Greentown Labs’ is deepening its connection with CEP through mentorship, cross promotion, and a stronger relationship continuum.  Plans are underway to build on the informal symbiosis existing today, taking advantage of the unique links that past CEP winners (now based at Greentown Labs) can offer as mentors, guides, and cheerleaders.

Thoughts from an MIT CEP graduate – Sistine Solar

Sistine Solar, a Greentown startup that is accelerating the adoption of solar energy by transforming public spaces with public solar artwork, is a great example of the path that starts at CEP and leads to Greentown Labs.  Senthil Balasubramanian, the Co-founder of Sistine Solar (2013 Semi-finalist and track winner) knew of the prestigious MIT Clean Energy Prize as a first semester MBA from the MIT Sloan Business School.  In the fall of his second year, Senthil conceived of and developed a business plan for Sistine Solar with a team as part of an MIT Course called “Energy Ventures” taught by Bill Aulet, Senior Lecturer and Managing Director in the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management.  The class course set the team up well for the competition.

The Sistine Solar team and Senthil benefited from winning the MIT Clean Energy Prize in two ways: credibility and financial runway.  Before CEP, the team was viewed as a bunch of students with a cool idea; but after winning the track prize, more people paid attention. In fact, designs drafted for the competition were used to get their first beta customers.  Senthil said being a member company of Greentown Labs moved them forward. “The community of fellow entrepreneurs I interact with, the exposure we receive to potential customers and partners, and the validation Greentown gives us are valuable for us.”

Senthil also offered Greentown Labs advice:  make sure students know that Greentown Labs is more than office space, “that the power is in the community and what it can do.”  We heartily agree.