FLoW Competition: Environmental Entrepreneurialism At Its Best

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Student teams of environmental entrepreneurs are being sought for this year’s FLoW competition. Why? $100,000 in prize money is available to winners. Plus our planet and its population need as much in the way of sustainable innovations as possible.


The FLoW Basics

For starters, here’s what you need to know….

FLoW (first look west) was launched in 2011 with a grant from the US Department of Energy. The DOE sought to “accelerate cleantech innovation and foster student entrepreneurship.” The results of this program have been no less than spectacular. In its first three years, FLoW startups raised over $35 million in follow-on funding. Other FLoW startups came to be acquired by leading companies — among them, SunPower.

“In 2015, FLoW won a further DOE Cleantech UP grant to extend the program for another three years. Today, FLoW teams benefit from the competition’s special relationship with the DOE labs, and recipients of the DOE’s National Incubator Initiative for Clean Energy (NIICE) — national incubators, the Electric Power Research Institute and DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.”


Today FLoW operates under the leadership of the Resnick Sustainability Institute at Caltech.

Of note, the FLoW 2.0 program has been structured to prepare students having projects contributing to environmental sustainability with a pathway leading to “entrepreneurial success.” Targeting scientists and engineers, FLoW 2.0 fosters skills that can convert ideas and technologies into products and businesses.

“Through our program, scientists and engineers emerge as future leaders in the business community,” write FLoW 2.0 program backers.

According to program information, FLoW 2.0 works with entrepreneurs to mitigate the major challenges that often stop them in their tracks. The list of these challenges include inadequate business training, finding money, finding facilities for building prototypes, and connecting with mentors who understand their technologies and can help them advance their businesses.

5-Point Program

FLoW’s 5-point program shortens the odds by paying attention to the three core “Cs” that prevent technology innovators from becoming entrepreneurs: culture, connections, and cash.

FLoW’s 2015 Winners

  1. First Prize — Axiom Exergy, led by a Stanford University team, won the $75,000 with refrigeration battery technology that could save the food industry millions in energy costs. Refrigerating food accounts for a substantial 55% of the energy use in supermarkets. Axiom’s Refrigeration Battery “charges” by freezing tanks of saltwater at night, when electricity is cheaper, and then it uses those frozen tanks to provide refrigeration throughout the day.
  2. Second Prize — NexTint, developer of a dimmable, retrofittable window film that can tune the amount of light and heat transferred through a building’s windows to keep occupants comfortable, reduce glare, and save energy and money.
  3. Third Prize — Reebeez, an Austin, Texas startup commercializing a lightweight, solid-state microengine that can revolutionize power propulsion systems in small, unmanned aerial vehicles such as drones.

The Transformational Idea Award went to Obtainium for a pilot-scale reactor for converting CO2 into ethanol using unique copper catalysts — that works at room temperatures and air pressures.

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FLoW mentor

About the competition, Axiom Exergy writes, “The FLoW program offers a cohesive set of services to startups, supporting them from the early idea phase (the Transformational Idea Award) through demonstration projections (the Rocket Fund). Few other accelerators, incubators, or business plan competitions offer such a long and cohesive chain of support.”

The 2016 FLoW Competition

The coming FloW program is open to university students and recent graduates across the United States. These are the innovators who have innovations that span the breadth of contemporary cleantech and sustainability issues.

As might be apparent from last year’s competition, FLoW has two competition tracks for contestant teams:

  • “Ready to Commercialize” products
  • “Transformational Idea” products

Training represents the first stage of the FLoW program. Contestants start with the FLoW 2.0 online training, available to anyone who applies. Teams are then assigned a specialized mentor pool to prepare them for the business plan “pitch” competition. Advice ranges from legal support to marketing and product development — all essential entrepreneurial hurdles.

FLoW clewEn route to the final competition, participants are matched up to form the connections and networks they might need to maximize success. These networks include strategic partners, funding sources, and prototyping facilities.

Competition winners are determined based on three rounds of judging by experts. The judges offer real-world advice to help accelerate and guide the teams to success.

The First Step

All teams intending to apply to FLoW are asked to submit a brief Statement of Intent by February 15, 2016. The SOI is in no way binding on your intention and you can change your topic and focus. However, submitting an SOI helps FLoW organizers identify early on the resources and mentors that might help you.

Here’s the Statement of Intent Form.

We encourage as many teams to enter this competition as possible. Start by submitting your SOI. Who knows what pot of gold lies at the end of this rainbow? We look forward to reporting about the results, the companies, and the products.

Images via Caltech

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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

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