Last week I had the chance to attend Future Energy: An Investor Feedback Forum, hosted by Ultra Light Startups at the Stern School of Business here in New York.  The basic premise: ten cleantech entrepreneurs from across the country are given the chance to quickly pitch their concept and implementation plan, and receive feedback from experienced cleantech investors and venture capitalists.

The event featured some very cool entrepreneurs, but was similarly notable for the investors giving feedback. Yanev Suissa, from New Enterprise Associates, whose last investement was in OPower, a company we’ve covered extensively here on TEC, stood out for strong, constructive feedback, as did Jiong Ma from Braemar Energy Ventures.

The participants were given three minutes to present their concept and pitch what level of funding they were looking for, after which there was a three-minute Q&A session and then three minutes of feedback from the panelists. I enjoyed the quick fire style, as it forced all participants to be succinct and get the point across quickly yet effectively. 

The most notable entrepreneurship team, in my opinion, came from Altaeros Energies, MIT graduate students that had used low cost aerospace materials to develop an airborne wind turbine for remote sites. They used a helium-filled shell to lift their turbine up 1000 feet into the air, which allowed them to produce about double the energy of a standard wind turbine due to the significant height differential. They projected a one day-installation, as opposed to approximately a month for conventional turbines, and showed that their entire system could be transported on the back of a lorry.  I was particularly curious about the feasibility of this project given the massive resistance wind has faced from community groups, so it was gratifying to hear the investors stress this point in the feedback round, in addition to national security issues.

Other notables included Pelletco, a biomass fuel production company from Maine that promised to produce fuels at one fourth the cost per MMBTU of oil, and Widetronix Inc., which hopes to produce tiny batteries using silicon carbide for use in medical implants and military technology. The strength of this forum seemed to particularly lie in the investor’s ability to point out the challenges each of these companies faced from a financing perspective, whether it related to market sizing or aggressive and dominant existing competition. 

This type of forum is not for every cleantech entrepreneur, as was evidenced by the widely varying ability of the teams to summarize their vision and need in three minutes, but as more and more venture funding becomes available for cleantech across the Northeast, these types of events should prove valuable for inexperienced ventures looking to network and gain some experience in pitching to investors. An increasing number of startup competitions also offer cash prizes for the winning teams, so it's worth checking them out and shopping around to see which one best fits your company.

On a sidenote, this event again demonstrated how social media integration seems to  be further permeating all aspects of the business community. The audience was able to participate by sending in questions and voting on the entrepreneurs and panelists via twitter. Congratulations to Altaeros and Yanev for winning.