The region’s top cleantech startup accelerator is kicking off its 2013 class tonight, with an event at Greentown Labs in the Seaport. Cleantech Open Northeast, the regional branch of the national accelerator program, offers cleantech startups mentorship, training, and networking opportunities, along with $200,000 in cash and in kind services.

Nationwide, Cleantech Open has “supported 727 start-ups, which have gone on to raise over $800M in external capital,” according to a release. This year’s Northeast program is also expanding:

In 2013, Cleantech Open Northeast will extend regional accelerator program support for the first time into New York City, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Philadelphia, and Maine, in recognition of increasing entrepreneurial activity in these areas

Tonight’s launch event is a chance for the community to come together, and for potential applicants to learn more about the program. (Applications are open here.)

“From its roots in Boston, the program has expanded to support the entrepreneurial activity taking place in centers of innovation across the entire Northeast region,” said Alexandra Adler, Northeast Regional Director of Cleantech Open, in a release. “We are looking forward to extending all the benefits of the accelerator program to the entire region through our local volunteer leadership teams and planned programming in five sub-regions across the Northeast – in Boston, New York City, Upstate New York, Maine and Philadelphia.”

As I wrote last year, energy and cleantech accelerators face a somewhat different set of constraints compared to web/internet accelerators like YCombinator and TechStars.* The timeframe necessary to gain traction is often longer, and the amount of capital required is typically higher. Often times seed funding comes in the form of a government grant or strategic investor, rather than a VC.

The result is that Cleantech Open, which grew out of a business plan competition, utilizes a more distributed model than the well known web accelerators. It offers bootcamps at the beginning of the program, but doesn’t house all of its companies in one space.

But the value that an accelerator can add is, if anything, more important in the cleantech space, considering the current lack of early stage capital. So it’s great to see another year of the program getting ready to start. Unless something changes, 2013 looks to be yet another difficult year for cleantech entrepreneurship. For a lucky group of startups, the guidance that Cleantech Open can provide could be the difference.

*In fairness, TechStars takes on companies from an impressively diverse array of sectors.