Two Maine startups have been selected to vie for $250,000 as part of the Cleantech Open, a national competition designed to spur innovation in the clean energy and technology sectors.

The Silicon Valley-based accelerator program has selected Introspective Systems, based on Peaks Island, and Parent Technology Group of Windham as semifinalists in its Northeast region. They join 36 other semifinalists in the region — which consists of the traditional New England states as well as New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania — that will compete for four spots to the national competition being held later this year in San Jose, and the chance to take home $250,000. 

Since 2007, Cleantech Open has assisted more than 800 startups that have to date raised more than $1 billion in external capital, according to Katie MacDonald, northeast regional director for Cleantech Open. “Cleantech” is loosely defined as any company working on sustainability and efficiency issues within the energy, agriculture, green building, transportation and information and communication technology sectors, according to Cleantech Open’s website. Eligible startups must have raised less than $1 million in external capital.

Introspective Systems is developing software to help architects manage large amounts of data related to sustainable design, while Parent Technology Group is developing technology in partnership with the University of Southern Maine to improve the performance of photovoltaic textiles. Both have received funding from the Maine Technology Institute. Parent Technology Group has also received research funds from the U.S. Army.

“They’re fantastic,” MacDonald told me today. “We’re really pumped to secure those two Maine teams.”

MacDonald said Cleantech Open received more submissions from Maine startups this year than ever before. Maine’s two startups is also a good showing among its neighbors in the region. New York and Massachusetts each have 14 startups in the semifinals, while New Jersey has four, Rhode Island has two and Connecticut and Pennsylvania each produced one. 

Maine is on the map, and Cleantech Open hopes to be more involved in the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and cleantech companies, MacDonald said. Cleantech Open already has a relationship with the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine, commonly known as E2Tech. Jeff Marks, E2Tech’s director, is the Maine metro director for the Cleantech Open.

“We’re excited about innovation work in Maine and complementing those programs with any services we can provide to entrepreneurs,” MacDonald said.

Likewise, she said Cleantech Open and the rest of the region could learn from Maine.

“When it comes down to it, we provide targeted relationship management with stakeholders to help them move their business forward. I like to think of smaller innovative communities like Portland as a perfect example of how to forge those relationships and maintain them,” she said. “As an organization that relies on people power to do what we do, we can certainly learn from those best practices.”

Regardless of whether either of the Maine companies win the whole competition or even make it to the finals, they’re sure to benefit purely from the exposure and training they’ll receive as Cleantech Open semifinalists.

Members of the Introspective Systems and Parent Technology Group teams will travel next week to New York to begin the accelerator portion of the program at the Cleantech Open East Coast Academy. The two-day event on June 17-18 will include prominent speakers, specialized startup mentoring, and a chance for entrepreneurs to refine their business plans.

“Whether you win regionals or nationals, just the opportunity to go to Silicon Valley and take advantage of national entrepreneurs and the ability to get your brand out there is in itself incredibly valuable,” MacDonald said.

A half dozen Maine companies have been chosen as Cleantech Open semifinalists in the past, but only one has made it to the finals: Pika Energy in 2012. Other Maine companies who have participated in the accelerator program in the past include Cerahelix and PelletCo in Orono, RTI Wave Energy in York, VFG Energy Systems in Kittery and SeaChange Group in Brunswick.

The accelerator program culminates with the Northeast Regional Final Judging and Awards Gala, to be held at the Boston University School of Management in late October, and the National Final Judging and Global Forum taking place in November in San Jose, California.

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