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Championing Student Innovation

When the U.S. Department of Energy sought environmentally clean inventions from the nation’s brightest young innovators, teams of undergraduate and graduate students from the Case School of Engineering, College of Arts and Sciences and Weatherhead School of Management as well as students from Cleveland Institute of Art responded in a big way.

One group designed a programmable electric bike powered by a low-cost fuel cell. Another devised a regenerative braking system for buses. A third drew up a technology to harvest pond-choking algae for biofuel. And a fourth created a system that allows consumers to easily monitor and reduce their energy use and expenses.

All four multidisciplinary teams, mentored by university faculty members, alumni and volunteers to hone their commercialization strategies and investor pitches, advanced to the semifinals of the Ohio Clean Energy Challenge, part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition.

The university produced four of Ohio’s 12 participants, and two advanced to the Midwest regional competition in Chicago.

EcoSpinners, creator of the electric bike, and NanoHarv Technologies LLC, the algae fighter, presented their ideas to a panel of judges that included venture capital and private equity professionals.

“To send two to Chicago was phenomenal,” says Bob Sopko, director of the university’s Blackstone LaunchPad, which opened in April and helps students turn ideas into businesses.

EcoSpinners launched last September and incorporated in March.

Jean Zhao, a senior chemical engineering major and EcoSpinners’ president and co-founder, says LaunchPad connected the enterprise with mentors, new grant possibilities and opportunities to pitch to potential investors. Explains Sopko: “We want to send the message out that, ‘Hey, we’re in the business of entrepreneurism.’”

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