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MIT launches contest to fire up energy entrepreneurs

Need $200,000 or so to launch your clean-energy business? MIT, the Department of Energy, and a utility company are waiting to hear from you.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is kicking off a competition to award $200,000 to entrepreneurs in the green-energy field.

The MIT Clean Energy Entrepreneurship Prize, announced Wednesday, combines two existing prizes and increases the prize money.

The revamped contest pulls in sponsorship from the U.S. Department of Energy and NStar, an electric and gas utility based in Massachusetts. In addition to receiving cash or services, competitors will also get mentoring from experts as they develop their business plans.

Sponsors hope the competition will accelerate the pace of innovation and energy.

"We want to help these entrepreneurs get their great ideas and possible solutions to the nation's energy needs off the drawing boards and into the homes and businesses of our customers," NStar CEO Tom May said in a statement.

The prize is part of a campuswide initiative related to sustainable energy that was launched by MIT President Susan Hockfield last spring.

In the past three years, there has been an avalanche of venture capital money into clean tech businesses, with solar and biofuels attracting the most investment.

But the field is still trying to pull in a steady flow of entrepreneurs and experienced business managers, with many people trying to make the jump from the IT industry to clean energy.

The new contest combines what were formerly known as the MIT $100K Business Plan Competition and the Ignite Clean Energy Competition.

The contest begins February 15 on MIT's campus in Cambridge, Mass. In addition to the grand prize, there will be three secondary prizes of $20,000 each. Winners will be announced in mid-May.