My wife recently gave birth to our third child, and as with the previous two times, this occasion has me reflecting on the world I’ve brought this being into. From education to politics to the environment, there are seemingly infinite challenges to get worked up over. But I’d like to think of challenges as nothing more than unrealized opportunities. And, based on what I saw last week at the 6th Annual Clean Energy Trust Challenge, my daughter’s future is looking brighter by the kilowatt.  

Since 2011, Chicago’s Clean Energy Trust has invested in 29 startups across the midwest through its annual challenge. These companies have gone on to raise an additional $86 million in follow-on funding and have created more than 300 new jobs. The Challenge has jump started more than 80 startups in the Midwest to date, including Detroit’s GreenLancer, and Chicago’s NETenergy and LuminAID. Over the last three years, Envisionit has been invested in this organization. Last year, working directly with former challenge winner AMPY, our team drove the launch of their kinetic-charging backup battery. The campaign was a rousing success, illustrating the potential these technologies have in driving market demand through innovation and sustainability.

AMPY New VO 11-30-15 from Envisionit on Vimeo.

To continue our support, we decided to participate as a sponsor for this year’s challenge. The Challenge really marries a few passions for the agency. Its emphasis on fueling growth aligns with our mission. We believe the world is ready for a clean energy revolution, and we want to be at the forefront of that movement. We support entrepreneurial innovation, so seeing organizations create significant impact in an economically viable way is truly energizing. And of course, we love to see midwestern spirit in action. This is our backyard, and the CEC reflects the “can do” attitude that exemplifies what we love about Chicago and the midwest.

Through our sponsorship, I had the privilege of mentoring one of The Challenge participants, Northwestern University’s Hazel Technologies. In a crop of energy-efficiency products and ride-share platforms, Hazel’s concept for significantly limiting supply-chain produce waste stood out in the crowd. Over three months, I advised the Hazel team on their positioning, market approach, entrepreneurship, and how to tighten up their pitch. Apparently, I was not the only one impressed with this team and their novel approach: Hazel Technologies won the the single largest prize at this year’s challenge, taking home $500,000 in funding from CET’s Clean Energy Fund. Needless to say, this was a massive boon for their prospects that was totally made possible by the Clean Energy Trust.

We’re thrilled to be adding Hazel to our portfolio. They have a very innovative technology and an exciting product to bring to market. After working with Envisionit over the past few months, Hazel’s vision and strategy have become clearer and more poignant. We have very high expectations for this company.

-Paul Seidler, Director of Venture Development at Clean Energy Trust

The Hazel team from right to left: Amy Garber IP Strategy, Pat Flynn Marketing Tech, Aidan Mouat CEO, Yuvi Kundasi Product Mgmt., Adam Preslar R&D, and Me (Giant checks = awesome!) The Hazel team from right to left: Amy Garber IP Strategy, Pat Flynn Marketing Tech, Aidan Mouat CEO, Yuvi Kundasi Product Mgmt., Adam Preslar R&D, and Me (Giant checks = awesome!)

It was an honor to bask in Hazel’s reflected glory, and I can’t wait to watch their business flourish and have its impact felt. As we look to create a more sustainable future for our children, I’m proud to align our efforts at Envisionit with Chicago’s Clean Energy Trust. An optimist once told me that the good guys will eventually win. Why? Because we’ll have the better ideas of course. It’s an amazing thing to see this notion come to life, and I’m looking forward to many, many, many more to come.

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