‘Shark Tank’ for Students

From the March 2013 issue of Columbus CEO

The University Clean Energy Alliance of Ohio (UCEAO) has a simple but lofty goal: making green energy innovations the driving force of Ohio’s economic development. The organization unites research from higher education institutions into one collaborative push to get ideas to market.

In late January, the UCEAO hosted the 2013 Ohio Clean Energy Challenge at the Blackwell Inn at Ohio State University. The event is part of the National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition established by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2012. Twelve teams pitched their original green energy technologies to a panel of investors, private equity professionals and entrepreneurs (think “Shark Tank,” without Mark Cuban). The prize: $10,000 and entry to round two in Chicago. The winner of the Midwest regional heat wins $100,000 and advances to the national competition in Washington, D.C.

Jane Harf, executive director of the UCEAO, touts the benefits of engaging lab-based researchers from across the state in the competition. “When you have a prototype, you need to be able to develop that prototype to the point where it is marketable then to the point where it is cost-competitive. That’s the challenge,” she says. “It’s not just the technology, it’s the ability to write a business plan, to understand what it will take to bring the technology to market.”

Two of the 12 teams hailed from Ohio State. Advanced Farms pitched a controlled environment agricultural model with an aquaponic system (a hydroponic system that uses fish) capable of using 90 percent less water and reducing the runoff of conventional farming. The team was mentored by Burr Zimmerman, partner at UVG Ltd., a Columbus-based commercialization consulting firm. Gary Rawlings, director of technology commercialization for TechColumbus, mentored Quik Sun, which developed solar charging capabilities for electric vehicles utilizing the national ChargePoint network of independently owned charging stations.

Cleveland State University’s Amplified Wind Solutions won for its wind-amplification system, which produces four to six times more electricity than an ordinary wind turbine.

Harf expects next year’s competition in Cleveland will again attract Ohio’s business and academic leaders. “There are a lot of people out there who are interested in seeing what the future will bring in this arena and help students take their ideas to the next level.”