With the dawn of the new year comes a certain reinvigoration—a surge toward change, and, ultimately, the hope for improvement. In the Cleantech Open (CTO), a competition for innovative technology ideas to reduce the impact of our energy-dependent lifestyles, Colorado has found a new vitality: Although 2009 was the first time teams from the Rocky Mountains participated, Colorado’s showing was impressive.

In an American Idol-like format, 278 teams—49 from Colorado—competed for up to $250,000 in funding and support for their start-ups and were handed a platform to lure investors. The 11 finalists included two Colorado teams: Golden’s SunTrac Solar, which makes the country’s only solar device that tracks the sun’s movement in half the space of normal solar panels; and Boulder’s New Sky Energy, home of the world’s first system that traps and converts carbon dioxide into manufacturing materials such as limestone. “This competition has a huge value,” says Dick Franklin, cochair and executive director of CTO-Rocky Mountain Region. “It’s a catalyst for mankind.”

Colorado has already chiseled a foothold as a leader: Our 300-plus clean-tech companies received 40 percent of the state’s total venture capital in 2008, and the sector has grown nearly 20 percent over the past decade—double the national rate. “The potential is huge,” says Christine Shapard, executive director of the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association. “And not just for windmills and solar farms. There are so many opportunities here.”

With 2010 comes the next round of CTO competitors and $60 billion in federal stimulus funds that will benefit clean technology. The country is staking its future on this movement, but is Colorado’s momentum strong enough for investors to continue pumping capital into our state economy? “It can be,” Shapard says. “That’s what I’m betting on.”