ANN ARBOR — Michigan students who compete in the annual Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge will now be part of a national effort encouraging young entrepreneurs to develop greener energy solutions.

The universities partnering in the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge, formerly the Michigan Clean Energy Prize, are among several Midwestern institutions that have won a share of $2 million in funding from the Department of Energy. This funding will be put toward fostering a network of clean-tech competitions for students across the nation. The effort is part of the Obama Administration’s Startup America campaign. Each consortium receives $360,000 over three years.

“This enables us to broaden the regional clean energy ecosystem,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate dean for entrepreneurial programs at the UM College of Engineering. “Our young entrepreneurs can now take part right here in Michigan in a national venture creation effort to solve a challenge that is global in scale.”

The statewide Clean Energy Venture Challenge, now in its fourth year, is led by the University of Michigan and DTE Energy. Currently under way, the program encourages students from Michigan universities to find a solution to a clean energy-related problem and develop that solution into a thriving business.

“The goal of the Venture Challenge is to develop individuals who will expand and improve the clean energy industries,” said Doug Neal, managing director of the Center for Entrepreneurship. “This will not only diversify the Michigan economy, but also create jobs and contribute to a more vibrant future for the state… the number of team applications almost doubled this year.”

Organizers have expanded the scope of the competition this year, and taken the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge to a new level by incorporating significant education and mentoring. In previous years, the Clean Energy Venture Challenge provided resources for only those teams that advanced through the rounds of the program. This year, all teams are competing for the duration of the six-month program. Each team receives a mentor, training and up to $5,000 in grants to build upon their ideas. All teams will showcase their work at the end of the program and a few select teams will share $100,000 in prizes.

The winner of the Clean Energy Venture Challenge will have the opportunity to present their business idea at the Clean Energy Trust regional competition to be held in the spring. Regional winners will compete for a national grand prize in Washington, D.C. in early summer 2012.

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