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California Comes Clean

There's a new gold rush under way in the Golden State. On Tuesday, several Silicon Valley-based venture capitalists teamed with researchers and local government to unveil the Clean Tech Open, a business plan competition in which, this autumn, the best ideas are to be awarded cash and start-up services.

The competition will be broken into five different categories: energy efficiency, smart power, transportation, water management, and renewable energy. reports that the top winner will collect a $100,000 grand prize and five others will receive $50,000 and support services for a year. (Interesting aside: Four of the five prizes are named after their sponsors, a la college-football bowl games -- for example, the "AMD Smart Power Prize." Who says green is granola? Not this Fool.)

I'm excited by the idea because one of my best investments, Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick Akamai (Nasdaq: AKAM  ) , was borne of a business-plan competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late '90s. Former MIT professor and co-founder Tom Leighton remains with the company to this day, and MIT is a coordinating partner in the Clean Tech Open.

Should we expect a winner like Akamai to emerge from this competition? "Expect" is too strong a word, but the amount of cash being poured into the clean-energy industry as a whole -- $1.18 billion during 2005, according to researcher VentureOne -- makes the emergence of a stock market winner from somewhere within the clean-energy realm practically inevitable.

But this competition deserves special attention for two reasons. First, it's in California. (Sorry, right-coasters, but the land of sun and smog is still ground zero when it comes to tech innovation.) And, second, the backers of the event have funded dozens of big tech winners, including Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) , Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) ,WebEx Communications (Nasdaq: WEBX  ) , and Hotmail, which was sold to Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) for $400 million.

That's why I'll be watching. You may want to do the same.

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Microsoft is aMotley Fool Inside Valuerecommendation, and Amazon is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick.

Fool contributorTim Beyerslived in California for 16 years. He still likes the state, but now he calls Colorado home. Tim owns shares of Akamai. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking his Foolprofile. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.

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