Cleantech Challenge inspires eco innovation

The third annual Cleantech Challenge is now accepting applications for the 2015 program. The competition calls for students to create environmentally friendly solutions to modern issues.

Cleantech Challenge is a result of collaboration between Portland State, the Center for Entrepreneurship, Oregon Best and Wells Fargo. With a recent grant from Wells Fargo for $300,000, the program’s impact is growing.

What started as a campus-wide competition, the Cleantech Challenge has been expanding its horizons to accept applications from students, faculty, staff or alumni from any Portland area college or university. By the Challenge’s fifth annual year, it hopes to be a statewide event.

“I think what’s cool about it is we’ll still be housed at PSU; PSU is going to be the hub of this competition even when it goes statewide,” said Quinn Read, the program manager of the PSU Center for Entrepreneurship and the Cleantech Challenge. “Portland is an incredible entrepreneurial community, and so PSU is really ideally located to host an event like this.”

Participants submit pitches to receive $2,500 development grants. Recipients will be mentored to build a prototype and business model over the summer. Six to seven teams will be selected to receive the grant for summer 2015.

“They get money this summer, they get mentorship, they work with us, they get resources working with all kinds of experts in the community to help get their idea off the ground,” Read said. Final products are entered into the Oregon BEST FEST for a grand prize.

“I think that if you have a business model or a prototype idea you’d like to see become a reality, you should apply to the Cleantech Challenge,” said previous participant Anne Phillip. Phillip’s team entered the competition in 2013 and won with an idea for an in-home aquaponics system.

Previous submissions to the Cleantech Challenge have addressed anything from recycled waxed cardboard home insulation material to suggestions to improve the efficiency of solar panels.

One submission focused on the 30,000 race bibs thrown away after a marathon and proposed biodegradable bibs. The 2014 winner developed an environmentally friendly alternative to lead-acid car batteries.

“We define clean tech as any process, service or technology that makes the Earth a healthier place to live,” Read said. “It can be a green product, it could be an idea to make the manufacturing process greener, it could be renewable energy related, it could be anything.”

“I certainly encourage people from all disciplines to apply,” Read continued. “We’ve had submissions from…the School of Business, from the School of Engineering. We’ve also had biology and chemistry and architecture, which is really cool. We’ve had students come from graphics design and students from the liberal arts.”

Phillip spoke positively of her experience with the Cleantech Challenge.

“Participating in the Cleantech Challenge was tremendously gratifying,” Phillip said. “All of us worked very hard, put a lot of time in, and learned a lot from the experience. Because of the program, I had the opportunity to meet so many great people. It was an exciting experience that pushed me to my limits and taught me that I can keep pushing those limits to reach my goals.”

“Great environmental innovations can come from anywhere, from anyplace,” Read said. “People, if they keep their eyes open, you don’t need a degree in business, a degree in entrepreneurship, you don’t need a degree in engineering to be an innovator when it comes to making a mark on the world.”

Find out more on the website: The application deadline for the Cleantech Challenge is May 8.