Peter Vandermeulen, founder and CEO of 7AC

Today’s cleantech founders have it easy according to Peter Vandermeulen, founder and CEO of 7AC. Well, at least compared to companies like his that got off the ground in 2009, when capital was hard to come by.

But Vandermeulen, who closed a $2.3 million series A earlier this month, told entrepreneurs assembled at last night’s Cleantech Open Northeast launch party, that the environment for cleantech startups was improving, and that their companies could benefit from participating in the accelerator.

CTO-NE, the regional branch of the nation’s preeminent cleantech accelerator and business plan competition, is accepting applications for its program until May 8th. And, as we reported yesterday, it has partnered with MassChallenge to waive entry fees for companies that have already applied to one program and want to also enter the other.

Companies that get chosen as regional semifinalists receive $45,000 in services and mentoring, and are entered into the national competition for a chance at up to $250,000 in cash and services.

Alexandra Adler, Director CTO-NE, and Paul McManus of Boston University

In addition to kicking off the competition, last night’s event, hosted by Communispace, was well attended by the usual suspects from Boston’s cleantech community. Rob Day of Black Coral Capital and the regional chair of CTO-NE, kicked off the proceedings, and presented an optimistic take on the cleantech space. Fraunhofer, the Mass. Clean Energy Center, and the New England Clean Energy Council were all well represented, as were the entrepreneur and investor communities.

Contrary to public perception, cleantech is a fast growing sector with massive social importance in which Boston is playing a leadership role. If you’re in Boston’s tech scene, this community needs to at least be on your radar.

I’m looking forward to see what companies come out of our region this year, and am particularly excited to see cleantech and web/IT talk to each other a bit more, thanks in part to CTO-NE and MassChallenge.

[Photo credits: Kate Plourd and Kelly Goss]