MIT Launches Clean Energy Contest With $200,000 Cash Prize

If soaring oil prices don’t provide enough encouragement to develop alternative energy, MIT has come up with an extra incentive: $200,000 in cash.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Wednesday launched the MIT Clean Energy Entrepreneurship Prize, a national competition aimed at bringing new energy technologies to market. The $200,000 prize, funded by the U.S. Energy Department and Boston utility NStar, will go to the team that develops and presents the best plan for commercializing alternative energy products and services.

A panel of industry experts and venture capitalists will select the winner.

“We do research, we put out white papers,” said Alexander “Andy” Karsner, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. “But you’ve got to have people with business plans and people willing to take risks.”

The prize could further cement Massachusetts as a leading center for alternative energy technologies. Legislators are already pushing for first-in-the-nation mandates and incentives to promote the development and use of biofuels.

Record oil prices, approaching $100 a barrel, and concerns about global warming are also driving interest in new, cleaner energy sources. “The world is changing, and we have been trying to find a catalyst toward making Cambridge and Boston a greenhouse for energy innovation,” said Tom May, NStar chairman and chief executive. “This is a competition that will seed the whole area with innovators who want to bring their ideas to commercialization.”

MIT estimates as many as 150 teams of entrepreneurs — including students — will enter this year. The competition will offer coaching and advice on developing business plans, with the prize awarded in May.

“Our country needs innovative solutions to address the challenges of energy and the environment,” said MIT President Susan Hockfield. “The value of this competition will come from learning and mentoring gained by the next generation of energy entrepreneurs and the exciting ideas that could help us envision a new energy future.”