Rensselaer Student Start-Ups Win Top Prizes at National Innovation Showcase
Rensselaer Student Start-Ups Win Top Prizes at National Innovation Showcase
TROY, N.Y. — Two Rensselaer student start-up companies took first and second place at this year’s inaugural Innovation Showcase (I-Show) competition Nov. 9 in Seattle, Wash. Ecovative Design LLC and JDAxis Corporation, both companies that are focused on developing products to improve the environment and people’s lives, won first and second place, receiving $5,000 and $3,000 respectively.
The competition was sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in collaboration with the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) and Idea to Product (I2P) competitions.
The I-Show is a competition that encourages collegiate student teams to display and present their technological innovations to an audience that includes successful entrepreneurs, seed venture capitalists, and intellectual property specialists. Judges decide the best and most feasible ideas, and winners will receive cash prizes and additional product and start-up support, according to ASME.
“Both of these winning projects started with the students identifying, understanding, and defining unrecognized needs, without being told what to do,” said Burt Swersey, a lecturer in Rensselaer’s department of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, who also serves as an adviser to the student start-up companies.
For the past 18 years, Swersey has taught the ideals and methods of innovation to his students in courses that include, Introduction to Engineering and Product Design and Innovation. He created the Inventor’s Studio course, which offers students hands-on experience with the process of developing a commercially viable product, including how to write patent applications and license the patent.
“I insist that my students learn problem-finding skills. They must focus on ‘needs’ that would make life better for users and not ‘wants’ so the end result should be sustainable, affordable, and socially responsible projects,” Swersey said. “I require problem-finding based on understanding through research, fact-based decisions using metrics, analytical modeling, critical thinking, creativity, and of course, developing an ‘attitude for success’ based on optimism, openness, and entrepreneurial thinking.”
During the time prior to the I-Show, the teams were matched with local entrepreneurs and mentors to help them refine their product, develop the business model around the product, and develop a business pitch. The teams and faculty will also be enrolled in a NCIIA’s Invention to Venture workshops that provide participants with cursory introduction to entrepreneurship and networking resources.
There were 10 finalists from universities across the nation, including the University of Idaho, St. Louis University, Oregon State University, Texas A&M University, Penn State University, University of Texas at Austin, and Washington State University.
Ecovative Design, LLC
Rensselaer graduates (with dual degrees in mechanical engineering and product design and innovation) Eben Bayer ’07 and Gavin McIntyre ’07 have developed an environmentally friendly organic insulation called Greensulate™. Created from waste agricultural materials, water, and mushrooms, the patent-pending insulation could replace conventional foam insulations, which are expensive to produce and harmful to the environment.
The organic insulation is created by pouring a mixture of insulating particles, hydrogen peroxide, starch, and water into a panel enclosure, and injecting it with mushroom cells that digest the starch and produce a tightly meshed network of insulating particles and mycelium. The end result is an organic composite board that has a competitive R-Value — a measurement of resistance to heat flow — and can serve as a firewall.
Bayer and McIntyre have formed a company, Ecovative Design, and are working to produce larger samples of the insulation using different substrates, insulating particles, and growth conditions.
“Burt has been essential in helping me move Greensulate™ from a concept, to a prototype, and into a functioning product,” Bayer said. “Burt teaches and communicates a broad range of useful concepts, from designing for the other 90 percent, to techniques for identifying real problems, to understanding and implementing entirely new ways of thinking and viewing the world.”
“But perhaps his greatest contribution to students at RPI is convincing students they too can make a difference in the world, by inventing new technologies and starting companies. The incredible track record of student start-ups originating in Burt’s class speaks directly to his success in teaching, inspiring, and guiding students,” Bayer added.
“The Product Design and Innovation program was unique in comparison to other universities’ standard mechanical engineering curriculum, which focus around books rather than application,” McIntyre said. “By enrolling in this interdisciplinary major I realized my designs each semester and developed operable technology that solved a multitude of needs.”
Almost 260 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes, including more than 20 million people in the United States alone, according to statistics from the American Diabetes Association and the International Diabetes Federation. The founders of JDAxis Corporation are creating a device that could aid diabetic patients with early identification of foot disorders caused by the disease.
Rensselaer mechanical engineering graduates Jessica Chin, who also majored in biomedical engineering, and Daniel Farrow, now pursuing his master’s at Rensselaer, are developing a foot scanning device called STOMP (Scanning Thermal and Optical Measurement Platform). The device consists of a visual and thermal acquisition device equipped with comprehensive detection analysis software. Using these images, the device will monitor the condition of a diabetic’s foot over time to avoid ulcer formation and other serious complications. STOMP is expected to reduce ulcer formation by approximately 85% leading to a major reduction in medical costs and personal anguish.
“The I-Show competition was an incredible experience for JDAxis as a start-up engineering company,” said Chin, president and CEO. “Being a year-long competition, there were milestones that had to be met in order to stay in the competition. One of the commitments was the Invention to Venture workshop where we met so many incredible people who assisted us in getting to this point. Because of this competition we were able to completely re-evaluate our entire business and technology and build a much stronger foundation for the company and for STOMP.”
“The show was a great experience for us and gave us the opportunity to meet some very intelligent and wonderful people. It was a very surreal experience,” said Farrow, the company’s chief technology officer. “Being a part of the first ever I-Show, we believe this will give us many more opportunities as a company and for STOMP as a product.”
For more information about the ASME Innovation Showcase, go to the IShow Web site.
For more information about the Invention to Venture program, visit the Invention to Venture Web site.
Entrepreneurship at Rensselaer
Fostering entrepreneurship is one of the main thrusts of The Rensselaer Plan, the Institute’s blueprint for success. The plan calls for infusing understanding and encouragement of entrepreneurship throughout all five academic schools and student programs, and cultivating a campus culture that motivates students and graduates to pursue commercialization and enterprise-building activities.
The university’s world-class incubator, the Rensselaer Technology Park, and the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship continue to be national models. Together, they provide resources for those who strive to combine technological know-how with business savvy.
Contact: Jessica Otitigbe
Phone: (518) 276-6050
About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and more than 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration.