The NuMat team wins $300,000 at the Clean Energy Challenge.

Raising money for cleantech companies isn’t like fundraising for digital startups. The money doesn’t flow nearly as fast, as it’s a much riskier and more costly investment for VCs, who will often opt to fund companies that offer a better chance for a higher return on their investment.

Which is why competitions like the Clean Energy Challenge are so important. Put on by Chicago’s Clean Energy Trust, the Challenge aims to seed clean energy startups and has been a launching pad for more than 60 cleantech companies in the Midwest since it began five years ago. This year, the pitch competition awarded 10 companies a total of $1 million, the most the Clean Energy Trust has ever given out.

“The very first stages of a cleantech company are much more costly,” said, Amy Francetic, CEO of the Clean Energy Trust. “Getting early customer traction is really important … and the customers aren’t typically the end users. They usually have to go to market through a utility company or a big manufacturer or a systems integrator.

“It’s hard for them to raise money. They need a lot more money to make that early progress to de-risk the technology.”

Past Clean Energy Challenge winners have received a total of $2.2 million and have gone on to raise more than $62 million in fundraising. Clean Energy Challenge alumni have created more than 300 high tech jobs across the Midwest, Francetic added.

This year 8 companies were awarded a total of $1 million. Here are the winners:

NuMat Technologies

  • Skokie, IL
  • $300,000 (Emerging Growth Award)

NuMat is working on a technology that makes the storage of gas more efficient and safer. NuMat also developed a complementary, low-cost approach to synthesize, purify, stabilize and experimentally evaluate metal-organic frameworks.


  • Evanston, IL
  • $200,000 (Emerging Growth Award)

AMPY captures runners’ kinetic energy and uses it to charge smartphones or other mobile devices. The battery inside AMPY stores the energy you generate throughout the day, allowing you to plug the device into your phone when you need a charge.


  • University of Chicago, IL
  • $100,000 (Pritzker Foundation Prize)

NETenergy is an energy storage and management service provider that combines intelligent energy management software with a unique thermal storage technology using phase change composites.  NETenergy’s thermal energy storage units store cold energy in the form of latent heat and distribute this energy when needed, allowing customers to shift their A/C energy consumption to cheap and efficient off-peak hours while saving 30% or more on their energy consumption.


  • Johnston, IA
  • $100,000 (Wells Fargo Prize)
  • $25,000 (McCaffery Lakeside Building Efficiency Prize)

Igor is a Power-over-Ethernet lighting, sensor, and data platform that licenses its technology and services to manufacturers, leading to 80% savings towards installation and 60% savings towards energy.

Design Flux Technologies

  • Maple Heights, OH
  • $75,000 (ComEd Female Founder Prize and Clean Energy Prize Fund)

Design Flux Technologies has produced the world’s first software-defined power management system. This patented system is a new type of battery cell controller and switching device that uses real-time predictive software algorithms and minimal peripheral circuitry to control all functions in a battery pack.

FGC Plasma Solutions

Case Western Reserve University, OH

  • $50,000 (U.S. Department of Energy Student Prize)
  • $50,000 (Aviation Clean Energy Award sponsored by Boeing, United and UOP Honeywell)

FGC Plasma Solutions has developed a process of injecting fuel into jet engines by using plasma to modify the actual combustion reaction, simultaneously increasing safety while decreasing fuel consumption.

Glucan Biorenewables

  • St. Louis, MO
  • $50,000 (Clean Energy Prize Fund)

GlucanBio is commercializing a solvent-based biomass conversion platform that delivers cost-disruptive production of specialty and commodity drop-in chemicals. Key technology advantages include the ability to quickly fractionate biomass under mild process conditions, perform hydrolysis reactions 100X faster and dehydration reactions 30X faster than those conducted in water, and produce the solvent within the process from the feed stock biomass.

Sun Number

  • Deephaven, MN
  • $50,000 (Hanley Foundation Prize and Clean Energy Prize Fund)

Sun Number has developed an automated process that aims to lower the cost of customer acquisition across the solar industry by analyzing rooftops and the impact of shade for every square meter of the roof.  Sun Number combines this information with big data sets like consumer behavior and energy load estimates to identify the most desirable properties for solar and allows companies to focus their efforts on qualified properties in order to reduce their cost of customer acquisition.