Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Student technologists competing in statewide energy venture challenge

Robot helicopters for bridge inspections. Smart home-lighting systems. Two-seat electric vehicles. These are three of the products from green-energy startups that will compete this week for more than $100,000 in prizes at the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge.

Now in its fifth year, the competition encourages student technologists from colleges and universities across Michigan to transform clean tech ideas into viable ventures.


Keith Porter, a U-M computer engineering student, is competing in the 2013 Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge. Porter and his colleagues' team, A2B Bikeshare, enables communities to independently implement bike sharing. (Photo by Natasha Janardan)

Winners will be announced at 2 p.m. Friday in Blau Auditorium at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Don Runkle, CEO of EcoMotors, a Michigan-based startup that designs and manufactures eco-friendly combustion engines, will speak at the awards ceremony. The top four teams also will pitch their ideas to attendees.

The semifinal round takes place Thursday.

"It's been exciting to witness the extraordinary progress of the teams and their ideas over the past six months, and the evolution of the CEVC itself over the last few years," said Doug Neal, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, which administers the competition.

"We're committed to contributing to the acceleration of the state's entrepreneurial success. It's great to see talented student entrepreneurs from such a large number of Michigan universities and colleges involved in the challenge this year."


Seven U-M teams are among this year's semifinalists:

• TerraWatt Solar provides residential solar system consultations and designs.

• Recraft designs and services water systems that generate bio-diesel.

• A2B Bikeshare enables communities to implement bike sharing independently.

• Sky Specs has designed a robotic helicopter that flies itself, and carries cameras and sensors to inspect bridges and other structures.

• conDUCT Solutions increases the potential for LEED certification for building owners by generating electricity from high-rise waste streams.

• Precision Water has developed a system that lets users dispense exact amounts of water from their faucets.

• Spray-n-Stretch has developed a method to fully recover shrunken clothes using a fabric friendly spray and a simple stretcher.

This year 22 teams representing 10 Michigan colleges and universities made it to the semifinals, almost double the number of schools represented in last year's competition. Each team participates for the six months of the challenge and receives mentorship, up to $2,000 in prototype funding, intensive training on lean business formation, and critical feedback on their ideas from domain experts.

"More than a funding vehicle, the CEVC is designed to give students entrepreneurial tools that can be applied during the competition and beyond. Our hope is to create a statewide cohort of entrepreneurs with the potential to turn Michigan into a clean energy hub," said Amy Klinke, CFE assistant director for small business initiatives and one of the challenge directors.

Past first- and second-place winners include PicoSpray, a U-M team whose small-engine fuel-injection system for motorcycles, mopeds and lawn mowers recently was featured in Fast Company, and 2012 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition winner Algal Scientific, a U-M and Michigan State University team whose technology removes nutrient pollutants from waste water while producing algae that could be used as fuel, fertilizer, or bioplastic.

The competition is part of a national effort encouraging young entrepreneurs to develop greener energy solutions through President Obama's Startup America campaign. The winner of the Michigan contest will advance to a regional competition in the spring in Chicago, and eventually could have a shot at a national grand prize in Washington, D.C., this summer.

Thirteen prizes will be awarded Friday. In addition to a first- and second-place prize, there will be six category awards, including best resource conservation, energy efficiency, and app or computer-based program. Five special achievement awards will be given to best prototype, most disruptive, best team assembled, best pivot(s) and judges' choice.

Beyond U-M, participating universities include: Western Michigan, Wayne State, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Central Michigan, Grand Valley State, Kettering, Northwood and Oakland.

Additional Clean Energy Venture Challenge sponsors include Baker College of Flint, DTE Energy, MASCO Corp. Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, Dow Corning, Google, and Next Energy. Partners include the U-M Ross Energy Club, Energy Institute, Center for Entrepreneurship and MPowered.