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April 30, 2010
By Claudene Wharton
“President Glick, are you having fun?” Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki called out as he emceed the Nevada Governor’s Cup Competition April 22, watching one team after another from the University of Nevada, Reno ascend the podium to receive their awards, and the cash that came with them.
President Milt Glick smiled graciously and nodded as teams from Nevada, Reno took home six of the seven awards presented at the Atlantis that night at the annual collegiate business plan competition presented by Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. Many of the teams were interdisciplinary, containing students from the College of Engineering and the College of Business, for example, and many of the teams focused on producing green products or using green technology.
“Our students are interested in renewable and green technologies,” said Mano Misra, professor of chemical and materials engineering at the University, who served as a faculty advisor for two of the winning teams. “The Glyzen Technologies and Nevada Paper Fuels team members are highly motivated, and they spent a lot of time in the lab to get it done. I am pleased to see that their hard work finally paid off.” The teams took first place in the graduate student competition and third place in the undergraduate student competition, respectively.
The first- and second-place winners of both the graduate and undergraduate competitions will travel to Las Vegas to compete in the Tri-State Awards May 18, where they will compete with students from Arkansas and Oklahoma for awards totaling $90,000. All of the competitions are sponsored by The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
The team members of Nevada's Outbox Records, LLC were elated to hear their names called as the winners of first place and $20,000 in Nevada’s undergraduate student competition. Team captain Danny Fiorentini, a management and marketing major, said the win was very sweet and not without obstacles. A couple of weeks earlier, the same day the students learned they were finalists in the competition, his younger brother and Outbox Records teammate, Joey, was diagnosed with cancer. They have since learned that Joey’s prognosis is very good, as the type of cancer he was diagnosed with has a 98-percent cure rate. So, the brothers and teammate Christopher Aarskaug are off to Las Vegas to compete in the Tri-State Competition in a couple of weeks with their product that is based on a concept similar to iTunes.
“We are a fully digital, environmentally friendly recording label,” Danny explained. “We have nine artists so far who can record in studios anywhere, give their songs to us, and we can make them high quality recordings for people to download. We’re only going to produce hard copies, such as CDs or maybe USB drives, in very small quantities, as limited editions – collectors’ items. That way, we keep our overhead low, don’t have a lot of physical inventory, and are environmentally friendly.”
Placing just behind the Outbox team, capturing second place and $10,000 in the undergraduate competition was Nevada's Innovative Protection Systems. Team captain John Feeney, an electrical engineering major, said his team is focusing on a market they know: college students and their parents. Their product is a hand-held, mobile-safety device that would spray a pepper-spray substance, as well as take audio and video of attackers.
“It will be pocket-sized and weigh no more than one or two pounds,” Feeney said. “And, it will be reusable and refillable. Our goal is to keep the price point relatively low, no more than $129. It would be a great add-on for students’ safety when enrolling in college.”
Feeney said they work directly with universities to make the device an option for purchase when students enroll. He also sees targeting universities and colleges as a way to get good exposure and eventually expand their marketing to a broader audience.
Nevada Paper Fuels completed the Nevada, Reno sweep of the undergraduate competition, receiving third place. They developed a process to convert waste paper into ethanol, which is “added to gasoline to reduce emissions and also offsets some of the petroleum we have to bring in,” explained team captain Cameron Howard, a materials science and engineering major.
Their process uses a proprietary catalyst to break down and convert the materials that is quicker than the fermentation processes that are currently used to produce ethanol.
In the graduate student competition, Nevada's Glyzen Technologies took first place, earning a $20,000 check. They developed a way to convert the waste products from biodiesel production into clean and renewable energy sources, such as hydrogen.
“This method produces very low emissions, compared to traditional methods of making hydrogen,” team captain and chemical engineering student York Smith said. “It’s cleaner and cheaper.”
The team is also producing glyceric acid, used in cosmetics, from the biodiesel waste.
“It’s a small niche market right now, but besides the cosmetics industry, there is huge application potential in biomedical products and other plastics,” Smith said. “There is limited production of it right now, but this could help alleviate the limited availability.”
Smith came to Nevada from Michigan in 2004 “for the skiing,” he laughed. “But, I just fell in love with the place after seeing the campus and meeting with the faculty. We’ve received great support from the University, the department, Dr. Misra, and local businesses and investors.”
Smith says his team is going to take the suggestions they received from the judges and local business professionals and incorporate them into their plan for the Tri-State Competition, a sentiment many of the winning teams expressed, including Nevada's Biometric Recognition, Inc., which took second place and earned $10,000 in the undergraduate competition. Their product is a security system that identifies a person by the touch of the hand.
“Products similar to ours are out there,” said team captain Holly Soltani, who is receiving her Masters of Accountancy in May. “But, ours is more accurate and less expensive. The competitors’ product can identify up to 500 people for about $3,000. Ours can identify up to 10,000 for $1,295 retail, and less if sold wholesale. And, you can always add more memory to ours if you need include even more users.”
Nevada's NOVAE Nanotechnology won the Lt. Governor’s Award, given to the team that best used clean, renewable energy technologies. Their high-tech, single-walled carbon nanotubes could have multiple applications, including use in electronics, light displays and hydrogen storage. For now, the team plans to focus on the product’s application in the solar panels industry to increase the efficiency of solar panels from 27 percent to about 50 percent, according to team captain and chemical engineering major Eric Hill.