Materials engineering students Julian Neira, Trina Salvisberg and Mustafa Jamaly are pitching their ultracapacitor business plan to the Venture Prize finals in the student team category. Two electrical engineering PhD students, Michael Thomas and Jaron Van Dijken, with chemistry PhD student Brian Worfolk, are competing in the fast growth category.
Edmonton—Two teams of engineering students are competing in the annual TEC Venture Business Plan Competition, pitching their business ideas to get a piece of $150,000 worth of prizes.
The undergraduate student team of three materials engineering students specializing in nanotechnology, is pitching an idea to manufacture a new kind of ultracapacitor for hybrid vehicles; two electrical engineering PhD students and a chemistry PhD student are pitching a new type of affordable and portable solar panels that can be used to power anything from homes to personal electronics
Materials engineering students Trina Salvisberg, Julian Neira and Mustafa Jamaly started developing their business plan in Engineering 405—a fourth-year course that focuses on business management and entrepreneurship. They then took their business plan and entered a U of A School of Business competition—and won.
The win put them in the running for the provincial Venture Prize sponsored by TEC Edmonton, a partnership between the U of A and the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation to bring new technology to the marketplace.
“Winning that competition was a bit of a surprise for me,” said Neira. “That was when I realized this idea was something we could pursue further.”
Salvisberg, who is the group’s CEO, says that’s when the group really started to take its business plan to the next level.
“We each put in about 40 hours that week on top of our course work,” she said. “We had some very late nights on campus upgrading our plan and creating a new presentation.”
The three attended a seminar in Calgary, where they practiced their pitch and received a critique from a panel of advisors.
“They gave us the cold hard truth—it was like the Dragons’ Den without the money on the table. They didn’t really sugar coat it they explicitly said ‘Do this’ and “Don’t do that’.”
The three undergraduates (Salvisberg is graduating in June and Neira and Jamaly graduate next year) are putting together a plan to manufacture ultracapacitors for hybrid vehicles that absorb braking energy and use it to accelerate the vehicle once it starts moving again. Their design is based on research by Dr. Weixing Chen and Dr. Xinwei Cui and uses nanomaterials that are tiny but have a large surface area—a bonus in ultracapacitor design.
The PhD student team, called lightPower, is developing portable, affordable solar power technology that could be used to power your cell phone or an RV. Two of the team members, Michael Thomas and Jaron Van Dijken, competed in the Global Venture Challenge in Tennessee last year and have competed in an innovation prize held by TEC Edmonton. The lightPower team is competing in the Fast Growth Category.
The group participated in the same Calgary seminar where they were given a chance to give their pitch a dry run.
“We pitched to a local venture capital group so they could criticize it, and they were really good at criticizing it,” Thomas said. “They beat everyone up because most of us had good ideas but just didn’t make a very good pitch. They were finding all kinds of holes in it which is great because we could fill those holes in for the competition.”
The Venture Prize competition runs April 27.