Business Students Erupt on Scene in Whirlwind Competition

Two Western Michigan University students, Neil Hurley and Matt Olson, were recently accepted as semi-finalists in the CleanTech Open, a national entrepreneurial accelerator program. Only 200 start-up business teams were accepted into the clean energy and technology sector nationwide, with 30 of those teams coming from the North Central Region of the U.S.  Hurley and Olson also represented WMU in the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge where they received an award for ‘Most Disruptive Product’ to hit the market. They are both recent graduates of the WMU College of Engineering and currently enrolled in the Haworth College of Business. As founders of Revolution Winds LLC, they developed new wind turbine technology — the Vertical Axis Wind Turbine.

The Team

Olson reflected on his experience and how participating in a management course in the College helped the team move their engineering idea forward in the business world.

“It has always been my dream to become an engineer and WMU has helped me reach that goal and beyond. I am not only an electrical engineer, but I now am an entrepreneur seeking my MBA degree. It has not been an easy process by any means, but all the extra hard work and effort has been worth it. Neil and I have spent every waking moment designing and constructing our retro-fit VAWT for over two years and when we heard about the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge, we jumped on it, not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into. But, with the help and guidance from Barcley Johnson, we were able to start turning our idea into a business and doing everything in order to prevent our company from failing. Neil and I were basically sponges trying to absorb every little bit of information we could get. We would not have been able to succeed without the help of WMU and its faculty.”

Within weeks of beginning this competition, Hurley and Olson have been able to tap into resources for funding opportunities and legal assistance. They have held weekly meetings to refine business plans and participated in programs with MI-SBTDC and MAREC business incubators.

The Competition

The CleanTech Open kicked off June 21 with the National Conference in Silicon Valley. Each team was allowed an open showcase to display their business and interact with hundreds of international investors, business people and industry experts in the clean tech arena.

“We made numerous contacts and connections in just those few hours with organizations around the world,” says Hurley.

The conference boasted presentations from the director of sustainability for Walmart, as well as top executives and venture capitalists representing Chevron, Black Coral Capital, SynTerra Energy, Dow Chemical, Claremont Creek Ventures and many others.

Just the Beginning

The conference was just the beginning of this adventure. The next three days were dedicated to the CleanTech Open National Academy. Each intense, 12-hour day was saturated with direct interaction, presentations and workshops with executives, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, legal teams and financial and marketing experts from Silicon Valley and around the world.

“One of the most noted presenters was Steve Blank, author of ‘Four Steps to Epiphany’ and ‘The Start-up Owner’s Manual.’ Steve is one of the noted ‘gods’ of the entrepreneurial realm. His insightful and unrefined candor was simply delightful and inspiring. Steve held open Q&A with the Academy to refine his presentation on the essentiality of customer validation and customer interaction. He held no punches with anyone and freely shared his enthusiasm,” says Hurley.

Two of the major sponsors of this event were AutoDesk and Chevron Ventures. Each team was awarded a $10,000 AutoCAD software package from AutoDesk.

Several sessions with multiple venture capitalists and investment executives related first-hand knowledge and insight of what investors do and do not look for when seeking investment into a new company. Other sessions included risk analysis assessments, investor pitching, strategic partnerships, patenting and IP protection, financial modeling, marketing and customer development.

Speed Dating?

The CleanTech Open events continue into this fall. Teams participate in weekly webinars through September coupled with continuing workshops and packages to help refine the overall business modeling. The best aspect of this program is the extensive mentoring network and resources that are within reach for each participant. The program is moving forward to investment pitches and awards for the North Central region in Minneapolis in mid-October. The national finals are held in Silicon Valley in November. At each of these events, each team will also be set up with one-on-one investor ‘speed dating’ sessions. The teams will make their pitches to top venture capitalist and strategic partner firms in the U.S.

For more information on the CleanTech Open.

For information on Matt and Neil’s venture–Revolution Winds.

Editor: Cindy Wagner
Haworth College of Business
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