WMU students clean up in Clean Energy Challenge, win $31,000

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Photo of VermaBioMass team members Brian Oswald, Andrea Lavasseur and Lindsey Truit.

From left are VermaBioMass team members Brian Oswald, Andrea Lavasseur and Lindsey Truit.

KALAMAZOO--Five teams of Western Michigan University students won more than $30,000 in micro grants and awards in the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge, a statewide competition held Feb. 17 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"We have proven that our students can play in prime time against the tough schools," says Barcley Johnson, instructor of management and mentor to a number of the student teams. "We competed against teams that were mostly MBA, law and Ph.D. students from the other schools."

The Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge is a statewide competition that provides student teams interested in clean energy entrepreneurship the education, mentorship and resources needed to accelerate their ideas. In addition to gaining experience, connections and feedback, participants compete for micro grants and other prizes totaling more than $100,000

Sixteen student teams competed and also represented Lake Superior State University, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. Wayne State University graduate students won the top $50,000 prize.

WMU teams took top honors in four categories and tied for first in another, winning a total of $31,000 in awards and micro grants.

"It feels great to win and be among 16 teams competing for the same thing," says Andrea Lavasseur, who was part of the VermaBioMass team. "We put so much time and energy into this competition and, when our names were called, along with other teams representing WMU, it was a great feeling."

In addition to a first- and second-place prize at the contest, judges gave out awards in six categories, including resource conservation; increased energy efficiency; advances in building techniques and materials, green building; smart grid, energy storage; alternative energy sources; and more efficient movement of people/goods. Five special achievement awards also were awarded for best prototype, most disruptive, best team assembled, best pivot(s) and judges' choice.

All WMU teams shared in the winnings.

Winning WMU teams

Category Prizes

  • Advances in Building Techniques and Materials, Green Building: Glass Reclamation--$5,000, plus $2,000 in micro grants. Glass Reclamation is recycling glass in a specialty class that is not currently recycled or pulverized. The product and the byproduct are used in concrete to build buildings that are Leed certified. Team members are Nicole Clement of Coloma, Mich., and Samantha Marsh, Kate Lutz, Drew Williams, Dan Duzenberry and Rachel Plaster of Kalamazoo.
  • Resource Conservation: e1e2 (earth first, everything else second)--$5,000. e1e2 is a recycling program that awards members with points for recycling members can use as discounts or coupons for products and services within their local community, online and at national retailers. Team members include founder Samuel Jaquette, a WMU alumnus, and WMU students Abdullah Alyousif of Kalamazoo, Katrisha Johnson of Quincy, Mich., and Duy Nguyen of Olivet, Mich.
  • Most Disruptive Product: Revolutionary Winds, tied for first place--$2,500, plus $2,500 in micro grants. Revolutionary Winds is developing a vertical wind turbine that can be easily refitted on any existing pole structure, eliminating the need for new poles, and the ability to be off grid and on grid generation of electricity. Team members are Neil Hurley of Kalamazoo and Matthew Olsen of Escanaba, Mich.

Special Achievement Prizes

  • Best Team Assembled: VermaBioMass--$5,000, plus $2,000 in micro grants. VermaBioMass is focusing on using a specific type of worms to break down biodegradable material from healthcare facilities that is not currently recycled. Team members are Lindsey Truit of Dowagiac, Mich., Andrea LaVasseur of Augusta, Mich. and Brian Oswald of Escanaba, Mich.
  • Best Pivot(s): ReClaim--$5,000, plus $2,000 in micro grants. ReClaim is developing new technology using heat exhaust to create electricity backup systems. Members are Aaron Tardy of Portage, Mich., Sergio Cappelletti of La Spezia, Italy, and Olivia Starks of St. Joseph, Mich.

This year, for the first time, the competition was part of a national effort encouraging young entrepreneurs to develop greener energy solutions through President Barrack Obama's Startup America campaign. The winner of the Michigan contest advances to a regional competition.

For more information, go to micevc.com.