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Two Northwestern teams cumulatively win $100,000 at prestigious cleantech business plan competition

Apr 7, 2014 12:00 AM
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MeterGenius awarded $25,000 McCaffery Interests Prize; myPower awarded $75,000 Clean Energy Trust Consumer Favorite Prize



Evanston, Ill. --- MeterGenius and myPower, two Northwestern cleantech startups, were awarded funding at the 2014 Clean Energy Student Challenge.  The Challenge, in its third year, is a regional business plan competition sponsored by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and administered by Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating the development of clean-energy businesses in the Midwest.

MeterGenius is a free consumer website that provides tools and incentives for residents with smart meters to save money on their electricity bill. Users can track electricity consumption at a granular level, set goals and track their progress, compare themselves to similar neighbors, and earn points that can be redeemed for bill credits.  myPower is a consumer device that captures and converts the kinetic energy of a user’s daily motion into extra charge for a cell phone.  Combined with a mobile application in development that tracks a user’s physical activity, the device could make a big splash at the cross-section of two large markets: consumer electronics and fitness.

MeterGenius and myPower are 2013 alumni teams of a graduate entrepreneurship course at Northwestern University called NUvention: Energy.  Over an intense quarter, interdisciplinary teams of graduate students representing physical and social sciences, engineering, business and law develop a product or service in the sustainable energy or cleantech industry and pitch it to a board of industry veterans.  The purpose of the class is to teach the iterative process of entrepreneurship, using the energy industry vertical as context for broader lessons.  The class, a partnership of the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN), works closely with the University’s technology transfer office (INVO) to leverage intellectual property (IP) out of Northwestern labs.  Students are also encouraged to present self-generated project ideas at the beginning of the course to potential teammates.  Although the class is not intended to serve as an incubator, more and more students work on their project beyond the end of the quarter says Mark Werwath, Assistant Director at the Farley Center and lead instructor for the course.  “NUvention teams tend to be highly driven.  The early emphasis on the dynamics of interdisciplinary team formation is an investment in future success.   Seeing the enormous progress that teams like myPower and MeterGenius have made is a wonderful validation of the NUvention model.”  The Farley Center also runs NUvention courses focused on medical technology, web, nanotechnology and social impact.

Both teams follow in the footsteps of another successful NUvention: Energy alumnus: 2012 team SiNode Systems, which designs next generation anodes for lithium-ion batteries.  SiNode raised more than $1 million in prize money at business plan competitions throughout 2013, and announced an undisclosed seed investment from Chicago-based Energy Foundry last month. 

The funding will facilitate critical development pathways for both teams.  MeterGenius, which is currently in a six-month, 3,000 customer pilot with a retail electricity supplier in Texas, will use the prize money to build a mobile application to accompany their web platform.  MeterGenius is also a semifinalist for the MIT Clean Energy Prize and a finalist for the St. Louis Arch Grants later in April.   myPower will use the funds to begin their pilot production run; more than 500 people have already signed up to purchase a unit at runwithmypower.com.  They will also be competing in the finals of the 1776 Challenge Cup in Washington, DC this May.

“We are thrilled to win Clean Energy Trust's 'Consumer Favorite' Prize!” said Alex Smith, myPower Chief Product Officer.  None of this would have been possible without NUvention: Energy and the generous support of the Farley Center.”  Ty Benefiel, co-founder of MeterGenius, shared a similar perspective.  “As we talked to electricity suppliers about our idea and how it could solve their customer retention problem, we realized that interest in our product was tangible.  We would not be where we are though without the financial and mentorship support of ISEN and Kellogg’s Zell Fellowship.  It’s clear these organizations are dedicated to supporting entrepreneurial-minded students, and we are proud to represent them at each competition we enter.”

Black Pine Engineering, a Michigan State team with an innovative design for a high efficiency mechanical pump for geothermal wells, was awarded the $100,000 student team grand prize, and will advance to compete at the US Department of Energy National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition in June.  NU startups NuMat Technologies, which manufactures computationally-designed materials for gas storage and separation, and SiNode Systems, have previously won the DOE competition in 2012 and 2013, respectively. 

Officials from Clean Energy Trust have indicated that over the past three years, companies competing in the challenge have raised more than $40 million in outside investment, created 280 jobs and registered 40 patents and disclosures.   “These entrepreneurs have invented devices to change the way we create and use energy, services that lower utility bills and streamline the energy sector and new technologies for biofuels, microgrids and energy storage,” said Amy Francetic, CEO of Clean Energy Trust, in a written statement.  “These prizes will help these entrepreneurs to move their technologies out of the laboratory and into the marketplace.”  Adding later: “Teams from Northwestern have consistently been top performers all three years of the Challenge; we look forward to seeing the next big thing out of the University in 2015.”

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For more information, please contact:

Jeff Henderson
Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications
Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN)
847-467-1972
jeffhenderson@northwestern.edu


The MeterGenius team is comprised of:

  • Ty Benefiel (MBA, Kellogg School of Management, expected graduation in 2014)
  • Hillary Hass (BA in Physics, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, expected graduation in 2014)
  • Yan Man (PhD in Mechanical Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, expected graduation in 2017)
  • Fred Thwaites (2013 BS/MS in Mechanical Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science)
  • Yves Xie (PhD in Computer Science, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, expected graduation in 2015)

The myPower team is comprised of:

  • Michael Geier (PhD in Materials Science and Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, expected graduation in 2015)
  • Tejas Shastry (PhD in Materials Science and Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, expected graduation in 2015)
  • Alex Smith (PhD in Materials Science and Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, expected graduation in 2015)

 

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