Smells like entrepreneurial spirit

Grad students use coffee grounds to win their contest

4/26/2008 | By: Sue Putnam, Jill Stockton, John Trent and Zanny Marsh  |

Engineering team Bio-Grounds LLC won the Lt. Governor’s Award top prize for graduate students of $5,000 in the statewide competition held April 25 in Las Vegas.

The University’s team took second in the Governor’s Cup graduate student contest and MORE Water Company placed third. Among the undergraduate finalists, Wolfpack Works came in second, and Gary Valiere, who helped advise four of the University’s teams, was presented with a special award for faculty advisers.

Wolfpack Works and will move on to compete in the tri-state contest with teams from Arkansas and Oklahoma in Las Vegas next month.

A record ten of sixteen teams selected for the finals of this year’s Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup are from the University of Nevada, Reno. In just its fourth year of competition, the Governor’s Cup competition is the only statewide awards program in which graduate and undergraduate students compete for cash awards of $110,000.

“This year’s Governor’s Cup enjoyed record-setting participation across a wide variety of academic disciplines, with 48 business plans submitted by a total of 146 students,” said Dave Archer, CEO of Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (NCET) which organizes the event. “We also saw an increase in submissions for the Lt. Governor’s Award, which goes to the business plan that best employs clean, renewable or efficient energy technologies and services. The entrepreneurial spirit, paired with a desire to find high-tech solutions to complex issues, is quite evident in this generation of college students.”

First prize in the competition is $20,000, second prize is $10,000, third prize is $5,000 and both the undergraduate and the graduate winners of the Lt. Governor’s award receive $5,000. Teams from Sierra Nevada College, Great Basin College and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas also participated. Teams of up to five students each from the University of Nevada, Reno were made up of competitors from a diverse number of colleges and disciplines.

Bio-Grounds (Graduate)

The Bio-grounds LLC theme is turning waste streams to profit streams. The company of graduate students uses spent coffee grounds to produce high quality, eco-friendly and low cost biodiesel.
Team Members: Jason Strull, materials science & engineering, Case Egan – Gabriel, George Rojas, materials science & engineering, Narasimha "Rao" Kondamudi
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Mano Misra

“Our project is based upon the idea of taking everyday waste products, like used coffee grounds, and turning them into various forms of renewable fuels,” team captain Jason Strull said. “We began this project last semester in our capstone class (an engineering design/entrepreneurship course taught by Manoranjan Misra), so we have had a lot of time to fine-tune our business model and research the adaptability of our technology to the market. I was never interested in accounting, business or managing others, but working with an investor with this project has interested me in maybe getting an MBA
later on in life. Even though it has been so much work, it’s been an invaluable experience in the aspects of starting up a business and networking.” (Graduate)

This graduate team created a Web site that connects people to green culture through econ-tourism and adventure information. Site visitors earn ‘green points’ by posting tips, ideas, stories or photos that contribute to heightened awareness and adoption of eco-friendly practices; points may be redeemed for gear and products from participating retailers.
Team Members: Allan Warren, journalism, Kamila Pawlik, journalism, Ann Marie Vollstedt, mechanical engineering, and Colby Stott, business.
Faculty Advisers: Dr. Michael Edward Lenert & Mary Jurkonis, publisher,

“We noticed an unfortunate disconnect between people and citizens and organizations,” Pawlik said. “We are creating a special networking website based almost exclusively on user content. We want users to inspire each other, share passion for being green. It is our responsibility to save the environment.”

MORE Water Company (Graduate)

These graduate students use Atmospheric Water Generation (AWG) technology to produce drinking water from the air. Their products enable consumers to produce pure drinking water in their homes, without the need for storing or lifting heavy water containers.
Team Members: Bernie Leas, MBA, Kelsey Azcarate, MBA, Gina Distaso, MBA, and Ben Larson.
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Gary Valiere

“MORE Water has a competitive advantage because the product uses a patented technology (for) which the company owns an exclusive license,” Leas said. “The AWG technology provides pure, great-tasting drinking water at a price level up to 70 percent less than bottled or home delivered water. A dehumidification unit, about the size of a window sill air conditioning unit, extracts moisture from the air and an internal fan takes this air and pushes it across a cooled coil system to condense the moisture in the air and create water.”

Power Development Technologies (Graduate)

Power Development Technologies (PDT) uses new innovative technology to provide an efficient, cost effective way to store solar energy. The vision is to create superior
supercapacitor technology with the purpose of advancing alternative energy solutions, reducing environmental impact and moving national energy goals forward to change the way individuals power their homes and businesses.
Team Members: Palkin Zed, biology, materials science & engineering, philosophy, William Groesbeck, computer & information engineering, Devrin Lee, management systems, and Annie Vranizan, marketing.
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Carl Nesbitt

“The team is a perfect blend of technical and business students that complement each other well,” Nesbitt said. “The specific business opportunity they developed is to create a company that produces high efficiency supercapacitors that can store the energy from solar panels. The PDT capacitor could replace more than half of the batteries - most commonly made from environmentally hazardous metals like nickel, cadmium, and lead - and increase the lifetime of the remaining batteries. Net effect to the consumer would be a solar power unit that is cheaper than conventional systems, with a longer expected lifetime.”

SciSpace (Undergraduate)

SciSpace is a literature-based, professional networking web space for scientific, engineering and medical doctoral researchers. Services offered will provide innovative and effective tools to facilitate the productivity and collaborative efforts of researchers worldwide.
Team Members: Noah Buxton, business management, Lindy Johnson, finance, Nicole Brittain, marketing.
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Gary Valiere

“SciSpace will connect researchers based on the published research these individuals produce,” Buxton said. “All of the information in the public domain will be used to build individual profiles that other researchers can access. We’re grateful the University and NCET facilitate this opportunity for undergraduate students. This experience has brought my College of Business education full circle, bringing all of the different aspects together prior to graduation.”

Sierra Biofuels (Undergraduate)

This renewable resource company specializes in sustainable transportation fuels. By using Nevada’s resources and intellectual capital, Sierra Biofuels will market both established and emerging technologies connected with microalgae-based fuel production.
Team Member: Joshua Waldo-Speth, chemical engineering.
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Victor R. Vasquez

“When I first heard about making fuel from algae I thought it was ridiculous,” Waldo-Speth said. “Since then I've come to realize that you can actually make 10-30 times more fuel than any traditional crop for the same amount of space, and you don't need to compete with farmland to do it. Growing algae in the desert seems like a wild idea, but so does drilling at the bottom of the ocean for oil if you think about it. President Glick said a few things in his inaugural address that stuck out for me, like "The next Comstock Lode is not in the hills of Nevada—it is in the minds of Nevadans." I think it is wonderful that competition brings this good out of us. I also feel proud when I hear that Nevada has more geothermal and solar energy per capita than any other state. Someday I hope to hear that the same is true with biofuels, and to have significantly contributed to that reality.”

Voxspot (Undergraduate)

Voxspot is a social networking website that promotes sharing of information and knowledge among users. It allows users to collaboratively teach and learn any topic they desire. Voxspot will be an online community designed to make it easy for people to teach and participate in online workshops and will allow people to publish their knowledge, skills or craft in the form of text, images, audio and video.
Team Member: Colin Loretz, marketing.
Faculty Adviser: Ted Mitchell

“Voxspot is a place to share knowledge,” Loretz said. “No one knows everything, but everybody knows something. Why not share that information with the world?”

Loretz was inspired to design a software application that could compete with the Web CT program the University uses and that idea lead him to develop a prototype.

“I decided to call my application Voxspot because it is Latin for ‘a place for voice,’” Loretz said. “Selecting a name was the hardest part of the business plan competition. I wanted something that was very representative of my idea.”

West Coast Helios (Undergraduate)

West Coast Helios is a renewable energy company that produces a unit, the Solar Hydro 3000, that may be installed in residential homes. The unit uses sunlight to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, which are used in a fuel cell to convert the chemical energy into electricity, enabling the customer to power a home with truly clean energy.
Team Members: Hailey Murdock, materials science & engineering, Mathew Savage, materials science & engineering, Kurtis Clark, materials science & engineering, Brandon Williams, materials science & engineering, Lindsay Vacek, finance.
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Mano Misra

“Our team has thoroughly enjoyed studying this technology,” Clark said. “We have committed hundreds of hours to the development of this business plan. We have fully researched the market and application for the Solar Hydro 3000, determining who will buy it and how we will get it to them. Our company name is named after the Greek sun god, symbolizing great power, and, of course, that our power comes from the sun.”

Wolfpack Works (Undergraduate)

Wolfpack Works team members wanted to utilize their engineering education to develop an innovative commercial product that would directly improve the quality of life for individuals with communication disorders. So they designed a comprehensive augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device.
Team Members: Nhan Diep, computer & information engineering, Del Jackson, biochemistry & computer science, Scotty Jones, computer & information engineering, and Tyler Kayser.
Faculty Advisers: Dr. Sergiu Dascalu, Dr. Leah Skladany and Dr. Gary Valiere

"BioLogue is a new, innovative solution for assisting people with speech impediments,” Dascalu said. “It will be the first to combine augmentative and alternative communication functions with speech enhancement technology. Advising the team has been a highly rewarding experience for me, as the students' enthusiasm, passion and dedication for this project have been contagious and inspiring. Composed of four undergraduate students majoring in computer science, but with expertise that also includes speech pathology and business administration, the team has worked relentlessly for almost a year to develop the BioLogue product, inspired by team co-advisor Dr. Leah Skladany, and the company's business plan.”

“We have applied modern technological innovation to a necessary device,” added Jackson. “We have modernized it, added novel features, and can do it all at a price that will make it more accessible to people whose lives can be improved with it.”

WunderBeer (Undergraduate)

This business uses organic waste from the beer making process to power fuel cells in creating renewable energy. WunderBeer was established for the purpose of brewing beer at a reasonable price using environmentally-friendly practices.
Team Members: Bill Cheatham, business management, Cody Wagner, chemical engineering, John Bernardy, chemical engineering, Kylee Finn, chemical engineering, Mark Carmonne, chemical engineering.
Faculty Adviser: Dr. Gary Valiere

“Our beer-making process utilizes renewable energy through the use of fuel cells from our beer waste system,” said Cheatham. “We have worked with chemical engineering students to develop a unique process through which yeast are killed in our brewery’s waste stream, making the power-generation process in our fuel cells extremely efficient.”

WunderBeer’s fuel cells will mainly operate off of methane gas collected from spent yeast. Team members have also developed a re-pitching process for yeast, which enables it to be re-harvested during the brewing of the beer and can be used in multiple batches which significantly reduces the company’s production cost.

Team advisers look forward to many years of competition where students creating projects in Reno will shine not just statewide, but nationwide and even globally.

“All subjects come together better preparing students for the real world environment, Valiere said. “The Nevada business community and others will be better served because it will employ experienced graduates that are motivated, competitive and experienced.”


For more news on the University of Nevada, Reno, follow @unevadareno on Twitter.

Get Nevada Today in your Inbox!