Student startups take home cash prizes in PSU Cleantech Challenge finals
Author: Laura Gleim, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: September 9, 2016

After building prototypes of their eco-friendly inventions in just three short months, 10 teams from Oregon colleges and universities competed this week for a total of $25,000 in funding at the final round of the PSU Cleantech Challenge presented by Wells Fargo.

The winning team, Ento Foods from the University of Oregon, was awarded the $10,000 grand prize for its work developing omega-rich oils and protein powders from crickets and mealworms. The team is made up of Charles Wilson, a recent law school graduate from UO, and Yesenia Gallardo, a recent graduate of Yale University. Ento Foods received an additional $5,000 prize for having the best pitch delivered in front of an audience of more than 40 cleantech entrepreneurs and professionals who served as judges for the competition. 

The second-place prize of $5,000 went to Liquid Wire from Portland State University. The innovation was a flexible, highly conducive printable fluid to power electronic devices in soft robotics and wearable products. The team is made up of Mark Ronay, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student at PSU, and Bahar Ajdari, a physics Ph.D. student at PSU. 

Another $5,000 prize for the People’s Choice Award went to Tree Dog from Oregon State University for designing a safe tree-cutting system that holds a cut tree in place and directs its fall to a desired location when the cutter is ready. Tree Dog consists if two OSU students, Dylan Gould, a business student, and Zach Caprai, an electrical and computer engineering student. The award was determined by votes from attendees to the 2016 PSU Cleantech Challenge Demo Day at OMSI and Oregon BEST FEST, the annual cleantech showcase that hosted the PSU Cleantech Challenge finals. 

Each of the 10 semifinalist teams also received $2,500 to build their prototypes over the summer, making the total prize pool for the PSU Cleantech Challenge presented by Wells Fargo $50,000.   

While in its fourth year, this is the first year the challenge was open to schools statewide. It’s also the first time organizers hosted a free, open-to-the-public prototype Demo Day at OMSI prior to the official competition. Sponsored by the Lemelson Foundation, Demo Day drew dozens of students and instructors from local high schools, colleges, and universities who are interested in exploring opportunities in clean technology and entrepreneurship.

“The nature of cleantech is to innovate and evolve, and that’s what we’re doing with this competition,” said Juan Barraza, PSU Cleantech Challenge program manager. “The PSU Cleantech Challenge started in Portland, but we understand that inventors and entrepreneurs are hard at work every day all across Oregon. We expanded the competition statewide to reach those innovators regardless of where they are located.”

The PSU Cleantech Competition kicks off every spring when student teams present their innovative ideas for solving pressing environmental problems. Semifinal teams are selected in May and receive $2,500 to develop a prototype of their design. Students also receive support and coaching over the course of the summer not only to develop a working prototype but to also hone business skills. 

“As a leading global financial services company, Wells Fargo takes social, economic, and environmental challenges very seriously,” said Tracy Curtis, Wells Fargo’s Oregon regional president. “We believe we have a significant role to play in helping develop practical solutions to impact current and future generations. Congratulations to all the winners.”

To learn more, visit the PSU Cleantech Challenge website