Green technology: Coming clean

The search is on for the best in green tech with the launch of the Clean 15 competition.

Canada has never been a particularly easy place to turn a startup technology firm into a global champion, and clean-tech companies are no exception. But now Canadian Business is teaming up with Toronto-based Drayton Weissenfels and, a technology transfer marketplace, to launch the Clean 15 competition—and find the country’s best emerging green-tech companies.

The challenges facing startups are well-known. Venture-capital funding is plummeting, for one, with total investment in the first quarter of this year — $275 million — down 25% from the same period last year. But in 2008, the clean-tech sector performed better than most in terms of attracting investment. That’s in part due to government regulations that are forcing companies to become more environmentally friendly.

Canada has a slew of clean-tech firms doing work at the demonstration phase, but getting to that stage is just the first challenge. Companies need to commercialize their products and find clients next. Dwayne Matthews, president of Drayton Weissenfels, calls that stage the second valley of death. “Everybody wants to make the deal second,” Matthews says. “Everybody would be really excited to put money in if the company was further along, and if they had a client they could reference.”

That’s where Drayton Weissenfels comes in. The company connects clean-tech firms with potential clients, including Fortune 500 members, and will offer its services to the winner of the Clean 15. Matthews is looking for firms with market-ready products, and entrants will be evaluated based on the market potential and originality of the technology, as well as how close it is to development. A panel of judges, which includes venture capitalists and CEOs, will narrow down the entrants to 15 and choose one winner, to be announced in a future issue of Canadian Business.

The winner will receive business development services and promotion valued at more than $60,000, including theopportunity to present to representatives from companies specifically looking for clean-tech opportunities.

Entries don’t have to be flashy. Matthews says there is a tendency to think of only alternative energy and electric cars when it comes to clean tech. And sure, Canada is home to buzz-worthy names such as solar-cell manufacturer ARISE Technologies and electric-vehicle maker ZENN Motor Co. But there are plenty of not-so-sexy products that can help companies become greener — and save costs. Take Thermal Energy International, for example. The Ottawa-based outfit specializes in waste-energy recovery, which reduces greenhouse-gas emissions and saves industrial clients between 10% and 35% on their energy bills. Likewise, water filtration may not grab headlines, but Ontario-based company Zenon Environmental started selling its water filtration technology in China and was then acquired by General Electric in 2006 for $760 million.

Aspiring firms can enter online at, and read the full contest rules and regulations. The contest is open to residents from across Canada, excluding Quebec, and entries must be received by July 13, 2009. Best of luck to all who enter.