The U.S. Department of Energy recently held its fifth Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Innovation Summit—an annual event that brings together academics, entrepreneurs, innovators, and thought-leaders to discuss our most pressing energy issues, the technologies being developed to address them, and the market potential of innovative energy technologies.
A central message of the three-day summit was the importance of entrepreneurship. Keynote speakers like U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman stressed the importance of commercializing new technologies. Their message was clear: it’s one thing to develop a breakthrough technology. It’s another thing to turn that brilliant technology into something commercially viable. If you want to advance energy innovation and solve our energy crises, you have to think and act like an entrepreneur.
For the past five years, the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) has been delivering that same message to innovative and entrepreneurial students from colleges and universities throughout the Pacific Northwest. Each year, interdisciplinary student teams are challenged to define an environmental problem, develop a solution, produce a prototype, and create a business summary that demonstrates market potential. The quarter-long process culminates in a large, DemoDay-like event where a select group of teams pitch to a group of 150+ judges—investors, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and experts from across sectors. The top teams are awarded up to $10,000 in prize money, and everyone comes away with valuable feedback and experience to help them realize the market potential of their innovations.
The 23 teams selected for this year’s UW EIC run the gamut of clean technology and environmental innovation: Loopool is addressing waste in the garment industry by creating a closed-loop supply chain that transforms reclaimed cotton garments and textiles into high quality, bio-based fiber; NOVA Solar Window combines the power-producing capabilities of a solar panel with the utility of a traditional window, providing renewable energy where traditional solar panels cannot. Korvata, in response to the harmful environmental effects of greenhouse gas emissions, has created a mixture of proprietary gasses to replace the use of nitrous oxide as a whipped cream propellant.
For the next month, these competitors, along with 20 others, will refine their prototypes, perform market analyses, hone their pitches, and prepare to prove that their innovation has the potential to succeed in the marketplace—and transform our world.