Earth-friendly food storage pod wins Clean Energy Trust's top prize

Hazel Technologies, a Skokie-based clean-tech startup working to reduce food waste, came away with the top prize at the Clean Energy Trust's annual business pitch competition Tuesday night.

Hazel, which makes a biodegradable container to help prevent food from spoiling before it's sold, won the Illinois Clean Energy Fund Award at the sixth annual Clean Energy Challenge in Chicago. The award is for a startup with a market-ready product; it comes with a $500,000 investment.


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Aidan Mouat, CEO and co-founder of Hazel Technologies, said the company will use the money to help grow the businesses and develop its product past the prototype phase.

"We've already identified a larger space to move into in the Illinois Science and Technology Park (and can) purchase the necessary equipment to scale up our product fourfold," he said. "Within a couple months, we should be production-capable on the commercial scale."

Hazel recently secured a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and several of its co-founders leave Wednesday to pitch at the Rice (University) Business Plan Competition in Houston.

"There’s potential they’ll be riding a high into that," said Clean Energy Trust CEO Erik Birkerts. "We’re going to set out some milestones for them to hit. … It’s a company CET can apply some elbow grease to and help them succeed."

The award represented half of the $1 million handed out at the business competition. Fourteen clean-tech companies, all from the Midwest, completed a six-week accelerator program and pitched Tuesday, vying for investment awards.

Hazel was the only Chicago-area startup to secure any investments. Three companies divvied up the remaining seven prizes, all but one of which were in the form of convertible notes.

St. Louis-based Nexmatix swept up three awards for a total of $310,000. The startup creates technology that recycles compressed air, as well as products that detect air leaks to help improve efficiency.

Nexmatix won the $240,000 Wells Fargo Award, the $45,000 United Airlines and Boeing Sustainable Energy Award and the $25,000 ComEd Female CEO Award.

"The real captivating thing about that company is compressed air is a big inefficiency in buildings, and they have a solution that fixes it,” Birkerts said. “Boeing raised their hand and said we have a real problem with that in our warehouses.”

NovoMoto, a Madison, Wis.-based company developing a micro-solar grid for use in Congo, also took home three awards. It won the $20,000 Power Clean Cities Award, the $20,000 Hanley Family Foundation Award and the $50,000 Department of Energy Cleantech UP Student Award.

That Department of Energy award was the only one given out as a grant, Birkerts said.


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Detroit- and New York City-based ride sharing app SPLT won the $100,000 Pritzker Foundation Award.

Clean Energy Trust has invested in 33 Midwest startups since 2011, including the four that received investments Tuesday. It secures funding mostly from private companies that view startup technology as part of research and development.

Twitter @allymarotti