Client Spotlight: SPI's Solar Innovations

How SETS is Helping Solar Energy Start-Ups Succeed, and the Part CadmiumCD’s Abstract Scorecard Plays in the Process

Recently I sat down with Veronica Mooney, Director of New Markets & Educational Development at Solar Energy Trade Shows (SETS), and Aimee Gabel who is the Director of Education and Professional Development. SETS is the organization behind the Solar Power International (SPI) annual trade show, where we unveiled our new digital display technology last year in partnership with Global Experience Specialists (GES).

Veronica and Aimee used our software, the Abstract Scorecard, for SPI’s Start-Up Alley competition this past year and we wanted to find out a little more about how the organization is using this program to help new companies innovate in the solar tech space. Here’s what they had to say.

What is SETS doing to incubate innovation in the clean tech industry?

For the past three years we’ve had a program as part of our annual conference, Solar Power International (SPI), that is dedicated to promoting up-and-coming companies in the solar industry. We call it the Start-Up Alley.

SPI Start Up Alley is a competetive and highly selective program in which finalists are awarded a free booth space. CadmiumCD's Abstract Scorecard was used to select the winners.

What is the Start-Up Alley?

The Start-Up Alley is a competitive and highly selective program in which winners are awarded dedicated trade show space at the annual SPI conference. It’s a chance for up and coming companies to be in front of the industry. We open submissions to early-stage companies in the solar industry, and selected start ups are given a booth space at no charge. They also receive valuable opportunities to network with industry leaders, receive public recognition throughout the conference, and learn more about their target markets.

Where did you come up with the idea for the Start-Up Alley?

A member actually approached us and said he wanted to give back to the industry. He asked how he could do this so we put our heads together and ended up with this competition. It’s a great way to foster innovation and allow new companies to thrive in such a competitive space.
What kind of companies are eligible to participate?
We’re looking for solar start ups that have less than 5 million dollars in annual revenue, have less than 15 employees and can come from any of the solar technology sectors including: software as a service, hardware, heating and cooling and smart homes.

Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, visiting finalists in the SPI Start Up Alley. This particular company went on to win the Start Up Alley Challenge. CadmiumCD's Abstract Scorecard was used to select these winners.

How many companies were selected to exhibit in the Start-Up Alley?

This is our third year. In our first year we selected 18 companies to exhibit, last year we selected 22 companies, and this year it will be 24. The 24 companies that are accepted into the Start Up Alley can also go on to complete in the Start Up Alley Challenge, a pitch competition which is a bit like the popular TV show, Shark Tank. During this competition, we narrow down the companies from 24 to 3. These 3 then present in front of a group of judges for the chance to win prizes.

These finalists represented the most innovative start-ups out of those that we selected to exhibit. SPI attendees are invited to attend the challenge and hear about what types of cutting-edge technologies these companies are developing.

It’s been amazing watching these companies grow. The first year we had three winners and since then they’ve gone on to win other prestigious industry awards and recognition like the Depart of Energy SunShot Grants.

What is the application process like?

We actually have two Phases in the application process. Phase I determines which companies will be allowed to exhibit free of charge in the Start-Up Alley Pavilion at SPI. Phase II narrows those selected down into finalists that will compete in the Start-Up Alley Challenge.

SPI Start Up Alley is a competetive and highly selective program in which finalists are awarded a free booth space. CadmiumCD's Abstract Scorecard was used to select the winners.

Last year SETS used CadmiumCD’s Abstract Scorecard to collect and review submissions. What did you use your first year?

We used a combination of Wufoo and Survey Monkey. These are fine for simple data but the Start-Up Alley is a 3-step competition, each with its own review process. We are also managing multiple categories, which was really difficult using these tools.

How did you find the Abstract Scorecard and why did you ultimately choose it?

We looked at a lot of different review systems. The problem is most are very cost prohibitive. Veronica Mooney had prior experience with CadmiumCD’s tools from working at American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) so she presented it to the team at SPI.

Ultimately the Abstract Scorecard is a simplified system that makes it easy on everyone involved in the review process. It’s also very cost effective, which was an added bonus.

What did reviewers think of last year’s process compared to the first year’s?

They loved it. And it was good for the Start-Up Alley Challenge judges to see the comments reviewers made about each company. It allowed them more insight into the start-ups and helped them form the best decisions possible.

ModSolar, the winners of SPI's 2013 Start Up Alley Challenge. Winners like these go on to win other pretigious solar energy industry awards. CadmiumCD's Abstract Scorecard was used to select the winners.

Where can companies go to apply to the Start-Up Alley?

Companies who are eligible can visit the Start-Up Alley page on SPI’s website to submit their applications. They can also find more information about the benefits of the program, who will be judging, and our partners by clicking the buttons under the “Learn More” section on our website. We love seeing all the great talent each year and are very excited to see what type of innovation applicants will bring to the mix this year.

About Michael Doane

Michael Doane is head of marketing at CadmiumCD. He is focused on educating event planners about the benefits of implementing technology at their trade shows and conferences. Download his free eBook, “The Most Influential Advances in Event Technology“, then connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.