2022 CTO Accelerator
Applications for 2022 are Now Closed!
Cleantech Open is the world’s largest cleantech accelerator, providing entrepreneurs and innovators the training and resources they need to launch and grow successful cleantech businesses. Our one-of-a-kind ecosystem built over the last 17 years spans key cleantech innovation hubs in the U.S., linking labs and universities, service providers, investors, corporations, governments, and next-step cleantech incubators and accelerators. Through our annual program, we provide between 100-150 companies in the U.S. a rich program of customer discovery, extensive mentoring, investor meetings, startup-corporate matching, and showcasing at both the regional and national levels. Since 2005, more than 60% of our reporting U.S. alumni companies are still operating and have collectively raised over $1.5B in external funding. Join this exciting community and be a part of our global network of innovation.
Applications for 2022 are Now Closed!
Still interested in becoming involved in Cleantech Open, or want to let us know your interest in applying for next year? Fill Out This Form and we will get in touch with you soon!
See the National Academy Event Site!
CLICK HERE to see the National Academy Event Site which launched this year's Cohort on June 1st-3rd
CLICK HERE to see the List of 91 Companies in the 2022 Cohort
Recruiting Webinar #3 - Click Here to view the recording
Cleantech Open provides tangible benefits to ambitious entrepreneurs:
- World-class mentoring: receive intensive, tailored mentoring from experienced business experts and gain access to one of the world's only cleantech-specific expert networks.
- Hands-on training: 12-week series of intensive workshops, boot camps, and webinars to launch your startup to the next level.
- Prizes: In 2022, U.S. Cleantech Open plans to award a mix of cash and in-kind services to the winners of its showcasing events. This includes:
- Up to $75,000 in cash investment* to winners of our regional and national showcasing competitions in the U.S.
- Up to $50,000 of in-kind services.
- The opportunity to win more prizes as they are announced.
- Networking: connect to a powerful national network of influencers and entrepreneurs.
- Visibility: showcase your startup to investors, strategic partners, and customers through specialized connection events as well as through social media and press releases.
- Alumni: on-going engagement for companies who’ve completed Cleantech Open, including introductions to investors and corporate partners, participation in Challenges, networking events.
As with most endeavors, what you get out of Cleantech Open is based on the effort and intensity of what you put in. Don’t expect to simply sign up and win a prize - you've got to "walk the talk"!
*All awards are subject to change at Cleantech Open’s sole discretion and may vary from region to region. The cash component of each award may be provided as a grant or as seed capital (investment). The US grand prize is provided as a SAFE note.
How to Apply
1. Step One: Create your startup's profile & registration.
Create a startup profile by registering here. This is just your basic contact info.
2. Step Two: Start your application.
Click the "Complete Application" button from your Dashboard after your profile has been created. Proceed to fill out the various fields and upload requested files. You can save your work along the way and resume.
Note that if you would like to preview the application questions and begin working on the application BEFORE submitting your payment, we have provided a downloadable version of the application in the FAQ section below. We recommend asking our team any application questions as early as possible, attending our Q&A sessions, and getting a mentor or advisor to review the application as early as possible to avoid a last-minute submission.
3. Step Three: Submit your completed application before the final deadline.
You can continue to work on your application UNTIL you Submit it. You will be prompted to pay the application fee after you filled out the application itself but before you can successfully submit it for judging. Please see the Dates and Fees section below for more details. Once it is submitted, it moves directly into the judging queue and cannot be modified. The earlier you submit your application the better!
4. Step Four: Receive judging feedback and acceptance decision.
After the final deadline of April 17th, 2022, you can expect to hear back from us by May 6th about whether or not you were accepted into the Accelerator. You may be called or emailed with questions from our evaluation team. Our panel of expert judges will review your application and, regardless of CTO's acceptance decision, we will provide you with valuable judging feedback. Good luck!
Dates and Fees
Application Deadline and Fee
The application period is open until 11:59 PM PST on April 17, 2022. If you are interested in our next cohort or want to speak with someone about how your product/technology/service aligns with Cleantech Open, please contact us here.
The Application Fee per company is $30 THROUGH February 28th. On March 1st, the application fee becomes $75. The Application Fee is non-refundable.
*To qualify as a student, the team must have a full-time student as the Company Leader and at least half the company must be students.
If you are accepted into the program, the fee for participation in the Cleantech Open is $1,350 (USD) for up to two members participating per company (or $975 for student-led companies) - and must be fully paid before the National Academy begins.
The Participation Fee covers several months' worth of training, mentoring, and event participation, including receptions and event meals. Travel, lodging and other expenses are not covered, so please plan for these additional costs, since attendance at the National Academy (in California or Boston/New York) and Global Forum are required. The Participation fee is non-refundable.
In 2022, the June National Academy will be online, with optional in-person events, and the October Global Forum is expected to be in-person in San Francisco, CA, with an online/hybrid alternative.
In 2022, required elements of the Accelerator can be done online, so it is possible to participate without any travel.
Your technology must fit into one of these categories.
- Energy Generation
- Energy Distribution & Storage
- Energy Efficiency
- Chemicals & Advanced Materials
- Information & Communications Technologies (ICT)
- Green Building
- Agriculture, Water & Waste
Confused about how your technology fits? Please view the FAQs tab.
Cleantech Open supports early-stage startups. Most startups in our program have less than $1.5MM in funding from private investors or less than $10MM in funding from family, friends, and grants. There are exceptions, however, and we encourage you to apply even if your funding levels are higher. We'll evaluate your fit with the program holistically, considering your company's ability to benefit from the program.
You must have at least two members / co-founders.
You and your company can be located anywhere in the United States and Canada, and we also accept companies from around the world, on a case-by-case basis (please ask us for specific countries). Much of the value Cleantech Open creates for participating startups is centered around relationships and network connections. For this reason, it is important for your team to participate in the Cleantech Open events over the program year, including the National Academy (East or West), Business Clinics, Workshops, Networking events, Regional Awards & Innovation Showcase, and our Global Forum.
Please confirm that you'll be able to participate in our program in this way AS THE NATIONAL ACADEMY AND GLOBAL FORUM ARE REQUIRED EVENTS. Travel and accommodation costs are at the expense of the participating company and its members. For the 2022 Accelerator, the National Academy will be a virtual-online event, and it is possible to participate in the full Accelerator virtually. Participation is still required. There will be optional in-person events as pandemic conditions and local regulations allow.
At least one team member must actively engage with the Accelerator by participating in meetings or events that are part of the program, and by submitting final deliverables before Final Judging. There are only two mandatory events at the National level: 1) the National Academy and 2) the Global Forum. There are several mandatory events at the Regional level: 1) Business Clinics and 2) Regional Showcase. For the 2022 Accelerator, the National Academy will be a virtual-online event, and it is possible to participate in the full Accelerator virtually. Participation is still required. There will be optional in-person events as pandemic conditions and local regulations allow.
6) Conflict of Interest
You MAY NOT apply if you are an Accelerator volunteer, judge, expert, advisor, mentor, chair, regional director, or if you are in any other way involved with the Cleantech Open organization or operation of the accelerator. Immediate family members of the aforementioned people are also ineligible.
You MAY apply if you are affiliated with the accelerator's sponsors and/or partners, as long as you or a family member are not directly involved in the operation of the Cleantech Open, as above.
If you are accepted as an entrepreneur or company participating in the Cleantech Open Accelerator, individuals involved in the running of the Cleantech Open may advise or mentor you, within the rules of the Accelerator, but such individuals may not take a direct interest in your company (such as an equity stake or a paid position) and may not participate as company members until after the Global Forum in the year of your participation.
For our organization, "clean tech" has a broad definition and encompasses a lot of different technology categories. In addition, startups who get into our program are often at very diverse stages of development. In other words, there is certainly no 'perfect' candidate for the Accelerator.
When judges look at your application, they will be evaluating your entry on the following criteria:
- Team Is the company's team promising and credible? Have gaps been identified clearly? Do they seem able to attract additional quality team members?
- Technology Is the technology potentially disruptive? Does it demonstrate the potential for a sustainable competitive advantage?
- Market Is the potential market size large enough for sustained business growth, and aligned with the expectations of possible funding sources?
What qualifies as a student-led company?
To qualify as a student-led company, the company must have a full-time student as the lead for the Accelerator and at least half the company must be students.
What if I plan to raise a round of funding while participating in the Accelerator? Am I still eligible?
Yes - as long as you fall within the funding guidelines at the time of your application, your startup is still eligible.
Should my technology be at a certain stage of development before I apply?
No - we accept startups at all stages of development. We have had winning teams who started the program with only a concept and no prototype, and we had winning teams who were already selling a product to customers!
That being said, the curriculum and program of Cleantech Open is most useful for companies who are still doing Customer Discovery, creating their Business Models and forming their products (pre-revenue).
Do I need an already established company to apply to the Accelerator?
No - you can be a team of at least two individuals or a company (eg corporation or LLC), although in order to pay out any prize money at the end of the competition, you would need to be a company and provide a W9 form.
You may form a brand new team in order to apply, but we recommend applying with an existing team (you will get more out of the Accelerator with a team that is already established and has a clear definition of roles).
Does my company need to be a US legal entity to apply to the Accelerator?
No. However, a US legal entity (corporation, LLC, or similar) must be created prior to receiving any prizes (we can't write checks to individuals). Any such legal entity must have an ownership structure typical of an independent startup.
Do you offer fee waivers or refunds for the application fee.
No. We don't typically offer fee waivers nor do we refund the application fee. Please read through all FAQs and ask Cleantech Open HQ for clarification before paying the application fee or participation fee.
What if you only have one company member?
One of our basic requirements is that there needs to be a minimum of two people per company. However, sometimes the second company member doesn't have to participate in the program full-time. Most often, only one company member needs to attend most events. If you are really pressed for a second company member, check out sites like AngelList.co or CoFoundersLab to find other entrepreneurs, or try to enlist an advisor/mentor from outside Cleantech Open to join your team
What is the time commitment like?
As with most activities, you will get out of Cleantech Open what you put into it. We've tried to design the program so that it integrates into your schedule rather than takes time out of it.
Alumni have said they spend 2-8 hours per week on Cleantech Open-related activities at any given point during the accelerator. Participation is required in the National Academy (early June) and Global Forum (in late October) events are typically 2-3 days in conjunction with a weekend day. The National Academy will be virtual for 2022 with optional in-person networking opportunities.
Cleantech Open is for very early stage companies. We're really focused on finding customers right now, and we're concerned Cleantech Open will be a distraction.
We hear frequent concerns on both sides of this issue (see below). Yes, it's true, at its heart this program supports early stage startups, but we actually work with a wide range of companies in different developmental stages. We frequently work with teams that have slugged it out for several years and are in need of a few key connections, some new inspiration, that one big seed opportunity, and some great visibility to get their idea to market.
A big part of our program is focused on finding and speaking with customers: finding them, learning about their needs and determining how your company and technology can fulfill those needs. Cleantech Open is about finding the best of the next crop of companies that have put in blood, sweat, and tears and are primed to take advantage of the massive opportunity that our program provides.
We are too early stage for the Cleantech Open Accelerator.
We love early stage ideas - many of us take a great personal interest in finding out about these and doing what we can to make them real ventures. Often people are too modest or not sure they're ready to get their idea out there and act on what they have to offer. But if you are just starting up, there is no better way than the Cleantech Open Accelerator to focus on business strategy, with guidance from some of the best professionals in the field! Some of our most successful companies came through the Cleantech Open at a very early stage in their process and are now off and running.
I don't have time to focus on anything besides growing my business.
Great - then Cleantech Open is perfect for you because it is all about growing your business! Trust us, no one can understand being busy better than us. In many ways, Cleantech Open is like a startup ourselves, with only TWO full-time national staff people year-round! Our volunteers give up a huge chunk of their free time because they care about entrepreneurs like you.
Our alumni will tell you that the exercises that they went through in the Cleantech Open were what they would have had to do anyway, just on a structured time frame with guidance from mentors. This is not an academic exercise or passive program of lessons.
Cleantech Open is a structured, in-depth and COMMUNITY-DRIVEN process where we expect you to come out a stronger and more primed company on the other end. The core of the program can take as little as a few hours each week, but you'll find that the accelerator's ongoing intangible benefits reach far beyond that. If you don't put your company out there, you'll miss out on the serendipitous, unexpected connections that can occur as a program participant.
I applied and didn't get in previously, why would anything be different now?
Some of our most successful alumni are repeat applicants! Often, companies apply before they're completely ready, and sometimes companies just don't come across well in their first application attempt. That's why we encourage people to re-apply even if they've been passed over before - please let us know how things have changed and what milestones you've hit since last time.
I'm not sure I want to spend the money (participation fee) if I'm accepted.
Cleantech Open is a bargain. We aren't just saying that. We've heard of one-day pitch events charging more than what we charge for a 5-6 month program. If we were to charge you full price for everything we were offering, the cost would be >$10,000 per company. The participation fee only covers about 1/3 of the actual expenses held by CTO; the difference is made up of corporate and government grants to support cleantech entrepreneurship.
Our large community of professionals are all contributing their time pro-bono to create value for your startup. By paying a participation fee, you're covering the bare minimum of hard costs that this non-profit organization incurs to run smoothly. The value that's added, the jobs that are created, the millions in funding that are raised by our startups all come because of the massive investment in time and expertise of our community.
What is the acceptance rate?
About 30-50% of applicants are accepted as participants. This is not a hard number as it is important to understand that it depends on the quality of applications we receive each year.
How long does it take to complete an application?
It takes only a few moments to create your user profile - the first step. If you have done grants or other accelerator applications in the past, the Cleantech Open application should be a breeze. Most of your time will be spent editing down to our character limits.
If you are starting from scratch, it will take about 2-5 hours total to complete.Does CTO take equity in my company to participate?
No - Cleantech Open does not take equity in your company to participate in the Accelerator programming. There are some prizes, for example to the US National Winner, which are given only as a SAFE note, which may convert to an equity stake in the future - if your company is successful raising future equity rounds.
How long does the Accelerator run?
Six to seven months, with the three months in the middle being most intense.
Applicants will hear back from Cleantech Open by May 6th whether or not they have been selected to participate in the accelerator. This is the official starting point of the accelerator.
Regional Final Judging and the Innovation Expo and Awards Gala for the Accelerator happen in late September to early October. Nationally, the Accelerator ends at the Global Forum with National Final Judging, Innovation Expo, Investor & Partner Connect, and an Awards Gala in late October.
What is a SAFE note?
As in past years, Cleantech Open awards the prize to the US National Winner as an investment in the company, and on very favorable terms to the entrepreneur.
CTO has adopted the SAFE Note (Simple Agreement for Future Equity), which is a standard document created by the Y Combinator accelerator, revised in 2018, and widely used throughout the startup ecosystem. You can read more about it here.
Our intention is that the SAFE is the easiest, simplest and most entrepreneur-friendly way to provide this prize, and it’s compatible with many other forms of fundraising your company may do.
CTO uses the "Discount, No Cap" version, unmodified from the Y Combinator site. For our prize, CTO uses a “0% discount”, meaning there is no discounted pricing owed to CTO at your next round financing. In addition, unlike typical convertible notes, there is no interest rate, no capped valuation, no expiration and no expectation of many other rights, for example board seats. All these terms are more favorable to you, the entrepreneur, than typical investors would accept.
CTO encourages the US National Winner to review this SAFE note with their legal counsel and Board of Directors.