Cleantech Competitions: Driving Open Innovation

With the number of cleantech companies growing, and the need for innovative thinking and creative cleantech ideas increasing, cleantech competitions are becoming a key component in delivering fresh minds and new ideas.

Cleantech competitions are a key ingredient in the recipe for cleantech success.  These renewable energy focused competitions are bridging the gap between university students, cleantech start-up businesses, more established companies as well as investors.  For these three target groups of the growing cleantech world, it is a win-win-win-win situation.

For students, these competitions give them a chance to gain real-world experience by using what they are learning in school and creatively applying their knowledge to solve real cleantech problems.  Competitions offer a prize to the winning participant, creating an even greater incentive to participate.  There are also many competitions that target the minds of startup companies.  On the corporate side of things, these competitions give companies new ideas and project proposals from cleantech innovators, at no cost. Finally, investors can use competitions as an effective way to generate quality ideas tapping into entrepreneurial talent worldwide.

Perhaps the largest and most successful cleantech challenge is the CleanTech Open.  The National Grand Prize winner of this competition receives a $250,000 cash prize.  Receiving thousands of submissions to their competition, the CleanTech Open opens the door to a countless number of people to display their creative thinking and innovative ideas.  This open innovation is key to bringing success to the rising cleantech revolution.

The European Cleantech Challenge is another important challenge.  This competition is a yearly business plan competition managed by the leading Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo and aimed at startup companies in Europe. Another great European initiative is the  Cleantech Challenge a joint initiative by London Business School and UCL.  Cleantech Challenge Mexico is another example of a new competition that is growing in size and participation in a growing economy.

GE’s Ecomagination is another great example of how large companies are leveraging competitions and Open Innovation to drive Cleantech innovation. The initiative was a $200 million innovation experiment where businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators and students shared their best ideas on how to improve our energy future. The competition was also recently launched in China opening more doors for innovation by spreading to new countries.

These are just a few examples that show how cleantech competitions are taking off all over the world.

With this proliferation of competitions and open innovation challenges there is a problem of finding the right competitions to participate in. Our online cleantech platform and ecosystem on our website, is also a great place to find all the latest Cleantech competitions, awards and funding opportunities. We also run our own Open Innovation challenges.  Anyone from a CEO to a university student can find challenges and participate.

For organizations that would rather run a competition on their own dedicated platform, Skipso offers the perfect solution. Through a dedicated and fully customised whitelabel platform, we allow any organization to set up and manage its own competition in few simple steps. An example is the previously mentioned EuropeanCleantech Challenge.

By utilizing the tools that companies like Skipso have created, any organization can leverage open innovation and competitions to drive Cleantech innovation. In doing so, they will also contribute to successfully creating new ideas, connections and jobs globally.

“Building a Greener Future: How Digital Prototyping Drives Clean Tech Innovation”

Erwin Burth, Autodesk business development manager for clean technology, discusses the benefits of digital prototyping in delivering clean tech advancements.

If the likely future growth path of an industry can be determined by the level of investment it attracts then the future looks bright for clean tech. Even the unfolding European financial crisis and a slump in clean energy share prices on the world’s stock markets has not held back the continuing surge of finance for clean energy from venture capitalists.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, wind and solar projects drove financial investment in clean energy to $45.4bn in the third quarter of 2011, a nine per cent rise on the previous quarter and a 16 per cent increase year-on-year. And in the UK too, the results of Ernst & Young’s most recent quarterly clean tech business confidence survey suggest that, despite some recent setbacks, the clean tech sector is also still gaining ground with optimism seeing a significant increase in recent months, thanks, in part, to gathering momentum around the Government’s Green Deal.

Despite this positive outlook, the clean tech sector still faces a range of other complex challenges – not least the need to achieve sustained innovation.

In a sense, the industry is built on innovation. Climate change, landfill shortages, water scarcity and other major environmental challenges necessitate new ways of conserving resources that are no longer viewed as infinite. Entrepreneurs worldwide strive to address such issues through breakthrough technologies and new business models. Fortune 1,000 companies are heavily focused in this area, often collaborating with or acquiring smaller firms to tap into new ideas and new markets and also to support their own future business viability.

Need to Innovate

Strong innovation can play a major role in tackling the critical environmental issues that clean tech companies are concerned with, which are typically discovered thanks to new methodologies and completely new ways of thinking. In many cases, this can only be achieved through redesigning existing approaches and using holistic design techniques to create new ones, ultimately contributing to optimised performance and reduced costs.

Digital prototyping can, for today’s design engineers, play a vital role in enabling the innovation process. The technique helps to make clean tech product development far more efficient, by allowing manufacturers to digitally design, visualise and simulate how the solutions will work under real-world conditions before they are built. In addition, this capability also supports several different types of innovation, which are particularly applicable to the clean tech sector.

One of the key building blocks of innovative design is the rapid capture of creative concepts.

The sooner and more easily ideas can be captured on screen the better, even if dozens of iterations are needed after that. The digital approach allows for the exploration of a range of different concepts. Designers have the freedom to be creative in the knowledge that mistakes made with pixels and bits are much easier to rectify than mistakes made in the creation of physical prototypes.

Meanwhile, in the research and development process, the ability to pass designs to manufacturing in digital form means that they are also more likely to keep their original integrity and result in better quality, reliable products.

Digital prototyping also enables early but well-informed decisions about appearance and form to be made at the concept stage, with the ability for the design team, colleagues and clients to weigh multiple alternatives. The right design is more likely to please end consumers, and therefore makes widespread adoption more likely.

In the domestic clean tech arena, for example, energy monitoring devices must be pleasing to consumers to be successful in the marketplace. Equally, the right design can make a product more easily understandable to an operator, with renewable power equipment that is simple and easy to operate helping to enhance safety and efficiency.

During the engineering stage, clean tech firms must test product stress and strengths, simulate mechanical movement and analyse the performance of multiple materials to make aesthetic ideas practical, proving that an idea will work and prove reliable well before the physical prototype stage. The latest Digital Prototyping technology enables engineers to perform these tests in hours or days rather than weeks.

Innovation is only valuable, of course, if the end result is commercially viable.  Digital prototypes can also be used to market a product before it is actually made. 3D images can be used for brochures, websites and other marketing collateral, as well as for focus groups and one-to-one customer meetings and for demonstrating concepts to investors to help secure funding.

Another key benefit of Digital Prototyping is that it helps companies scale their solutions and evaluate their impact as they scale. A more practical aspect of innovation is the need to protect intellectual property. Again, Digital Prototyping can help here – by using a ‘shrink-wrapped’ version in the design review process, data and other commercial information can be protected from third parties.

Clean Tech Businesses Reaping the Rewards of Digital Prototyping

The Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program provides significant support for early-stage clean technology companies who are working to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges by providing them with design and engineering software worth up to 120,000 Euros – and/or £100,000, for a nominal fee. Many are now using Autodesk software and digital prototyping functionality to achieve pioneering innovation.

UK-based partners already signed up to the programme include Cleaner Air Solutions, a leader in the specification, design, supply and installation of photovoltaic (PV) systems, and marine energy group, IT Power.

Cleaner Air Solutions’ decision to sign up for the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program was driven by the recent rapid increase, both in the number of solar PV systems installed in the UK and in new market entrants, hungry to compete with the established players.

According to Andy Craddock, Technical Executive at Cleaner Air Solutions, “Having access to 3D software like Autodesk Inventor and Autodesk Showcase, through the Clean Tech Partner Program allows us to develop innovative products, dramatically reduce project risk and overall project lifecycles, and drive rapid but well-informed decisions on design projects by developing high-quality visualisations.

“In short, being part of the programme has given us access to high-quality 3D design tools, in turn enabling us to achieve efficiencies and drive business growth,” he adds.

In its role as lead partner in an EU-funded consortium, IT Power is using Digital Prototyping software from Autodesk to develop an innovative tidal energy device for Pulse Tidal Ltd which uses oscillating horizontal hydrofoils instead of traditional rotating blades to generate renewable energy.

As well as producing a 3D model of the design, IT Power has been using dynamic simulation within Inventor to animate the Pulse device. “This has saved us time, effort and money,” says Tim Twibell, Senior Engineer at IT Power. “We have a visual display of the motions of the mechanism, and we can calculate forces wherever we choose within the device.”

For more information on the scheme, log on to: www.autodesk.co.uk/cleantech

Sustained Success

Today, despite the ongoing downturn, the clean tech sector is continuing to evolve rapidly. For those creating the new technologies, the focus should undoubtedly continue to be on achieving sustained innovation. In realising this objective, clean tech designers and engineers can benefit significantly from implementing cutting-edge design methodologies such as digital prototyping to capture ideas quickly as well as support fast and informed design decisions.

Sunday Telegraph advertorial article_ Clean Tech art (current)