Friday, December 14, 2007

Social Networks, Pizza and Clean Tech

I thought I’d share a very successful and personal story about a Clean Tech initiative that epitomizes what Community Marketing is all about: The California Clean Tech Open ( Within its first year of existence the California Clean Tech Open became the richest Clean Tech competition in the nation, was awarded an MIT presidential citation and recognized as one of the 100 best ideas in the New York Times! Now, in its 3rd year the California Clean Tech Open has raised directly more than $2 million in prize (cash and services) and has helped the competition winners raise more than $10 million from the venture community.

It all started back in the fall of 2005 at a conference of the MIT Club of Northern California Clean Tech Program. Several of us had identified a structural vacuum, in the then nascent Clean Tech segment, between entrepreneurs, academics, national labs like Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the venture community. We believed that this vacuum was significantly slowing down the commercialization and adoption of promising clean technologies. So, we decided to create a business plan competition that would act as a catalyst to foster and accelerate innovation. The California Clean Tech Open was born, as a non-profit organization staffed by volunteers. Our motto: By entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs! Our modus operandi: Speed and excellence in execution!

On March 21, 2006, less than five months later, the competition was officially launched at San Francisco City Hall with a keynote address by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, joined by several guests including Tim Draper of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Tom King CEO of PG&E, Dian Grueneich Commissioner California Public Utility Commission, and a representative from the Governor’s office. We announced that we would give a $100,000 “Start-up-in-a-box” prize to the five category winners. The original five categories were: Renewables, Transportation, Energy Efficiency, Smart Power and Water Management, (Green Buildings was added for the 2007 competition).

On Sept 26, 2006, the North Light Court in San Francisco City Hall filled with over 250 attendees to witness the awards ceremony. We were honored to host such national, state, and industry leaders as California Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld, National Resource Defense Council Co-Director Ralph Cavanaugh and renowned venture capitalist and biofuels expert Vinod Khosla, Principal and Founder of Khosla Ventures. The 2006 prize sponsors were Agora Foundation, AMD, Lexus, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Sempra Energy and Southern California Edison. Charter partners included A&R Edelman, MIT club of Northern California and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati! This very elite group was joined in 2007 by Google.

It has been by all measures a great success and while we certainly made mistakes along the way, here is what we did right:

1. Identified a significant need where there was pent-up demand
2. Defined a clear mission for the organization
3. Developed a simple strategic plan to ensure maximum speed of execution
4. Articulated a clear value proposition for all constituencies
5. Adapted our plan to reflect feedback
6. Focused on delivering value to the contestants (training, mentoring, feedback sessions)
7. Were absolutely passionate about our mission

More specifically, and from a Marketing standpoint, we focused on getting the word out to the constituencies we wanted to reach. Indeed, getting immediate reach was critical for us as we needed both to generate interest with high-quality sponsors and attract high-level entrepreneurs. Building a targeted social network was job #1. The MIT Club Clean Tech Program created a group on Linkedin, we used Eloqua for mailings and established a Yahoo group for internal communication. And while Job #1 was very much around “push”, job #2 had to be around “pull” if we were to succeed. This meant aggressive PR (thank you A&R Edelman), a website with as many self-service capabilities as possible (registration forms, FAQs, eligibility rules,…), as well as, strong established ecosystem partners like CalCEF, CleanEdge, Greenjobs and the Cleantech Venture Network. We were hoping to reach out to grad students through social media marketing on FaceBook and mySpace but for several reasons had to go more low-tech and hired an outfit to do “postering” on 30+ campuses. This didn’t work out at all! Fortunately, this flop did not prevent the contestants from signing up “en masse”, as we had to review close to 200 business plans in various stages… Our web team did a bang up job and spent many nights de-bugging the application (remember that everybody had a day job). As far as media coverage goes, we must have had a pretty compelling story that resulted in news or bylined articles from KTVU Channel 2, MSNBC, CleanEdge News, Red Herring, ZDNet, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Motley Fool, local papers like the Palo Alto Weekly and the Almanac, as well as, more long-tail coverage from the New York Times (100 Best Ideas for 2006) and IEEE. Wilson Sonsini very generously helped us organize our summer workshops program (Clean Tech 201 Entrepreneur Series) where very accomplished entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and renowned academics came to assist the entrepreneurs finalize their business plans.

The California Clean Tech Open is a great example of Community Marketing. While passion, talent and dedication amongst the core volunteers is essential, success would not be possible without the enormous good will of the sponsors and partners who continue to generously support this initiative with their time, resources and even more critically with their advice. Yet, despite Linkedin and social media marketing tools, the real magic throughout the process has been the team dinners, that one of us - let’s call him Mickey so as not to embarrass him - keeps throwing with good beer and Amici’s pizzas!

1 comment:

Tony Bogar said...

Amici's pizza is indeed a good motivator, but the enthusiasm shown by "Mickey", Laurent, Anna, and the others with the original idea really drew people in. As much work as I do with e-marketing, I know nothing beats personal attention. I saw this when I worked in for-profit marketing, and I see this especially now in the non-profit world. Face-to-face marketing may not be as efficient, but it is by far more effective.