One of the formative moments in my career was participating in an Energy Department competition called FutureCar — known today as EcoCAR 3 — which challenges students to develop more fuel efficient and sustainable vehicles. Participating in that competition inspired me to pursue a career that addressed the toughest problems in sustainable transportation and clean energy. I’m just one of many who had their professional journeys changed as a result of these competitions,.
I hope that will also be true of the outstanding young innovators I had the pleasure of meeting at this year’s Cleantech University Prize (Cleantech UP) National Competition, held at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Launched in 2015, Cleantech University Prize supports student entrepreneurs nationwide by funding eight regional competitions, primarily hosted by universities. Teams compete for a minimum of $50,000 in funding and services to further support the commercialization of their technologies. The competition is a lot like the hit show Shark Tank — students pitch to a panel of experts, explaining why their idea is feasible and how it can make a positive impact. The top three teams from each of the regional competitions are then invited to compete at the national competition for an additional $100,000 in prizes. The national event also provides competitors with professional development and networking opportunities with leading clean energy leaders from around the country.
Among the 21 semifinalist teams in the national competition this year, student teams hailed from universities in 11 states: California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. All of this year’s teams brought enormous passion to the competition, and it was no easy task to narrow the field down to these top three teams – but that’s what we asked our judges to do.
- Heila Technologies, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, won the 2016 Cleantech UP National Competition for developing a universal control hub that automatically monitors and manages disparate microgrids — such as those that power solar panels, wind turbines, and gas generators — at places like company campuses, military bases, and rural villages, for optimal performance. They have won the $50,000 award — but wait, there’s more. They are also receiving an additional prize: a voucher to access facilities and capabilities at our world class National Labs, equivalent to $50,000. Connecting more promising start-ups and small businesses with these resources is one of EERE’s top priorities as we seek to broaden access to the national treasures that are our National Labs.
- XStream Trucking, from Stanford University, won second place for their patented technology that eliminates the gap between a semi-trailer and its cab, thereby reducing drag and fuel consumption of trucks at high speeds. They will receive $30,000.
- NovoMoto, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, won third place for their MicroPlant technology that aims to incorporate solar power technology, control and monitoring software, and local partners to provide renewable, sustainable electricity to communities in sub-Saharan Africa. They will receive $20,000.
Alumni from past years have already gone on to see tremendous success in bringing their visions to life and commercializing some exciting technologies. I have no doubt that we will see the same from this year’s very promising group. Congratulations to all of the participants!