Teams of student innovators got a leg up in their entry into West Virginia’s energy industry thanks to an entrepreneurship challenge sponsored by West Virginia University.

The inaugural West Virginia Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge, hosted by the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design with the support of the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, recently awarded prize money to three student-driven technology enterprises.

The $20,000 first prize went to WINDPAX, LLC, created by Justin Chambers, a mechanical engineering student in the Statler College from Glen Dale, W.Va. WINDPAX is a design company that specializes in the development of recreational energy producing and energy storage devices. The core technology is based on portable power generating wind turbines for outdoor recreational use. The company currently has a patent pending unit and has other patentable units under development.

The second prize of $10,000 went to METEOR Consulting, PLLC, created by Harold Vass of Sophia, W.Va., Luke Bowman of Moatsville, W.Va., and Matthew Schmidt of Fairmont, W.Va., all students in mechanical engineering. METEOR Consulting provides a solution for many companies in the natural gas industry who want to efficiently and effectively deal with unmarketable methane and similar byproducts, while allowing the extraction of the valuable Y-fluids within the shale layer. METEOR Consulting, through experience and dedication, will assist clients in securing the necessary hardware, software, and expertise to safely implement the use of technology for methane-enhanced oil recovery.

Third prize, $5,000, went to SoniWell, Inc., created by Matthew Boots of Fombell, Pa., John Hailer of Duck, W.Va., and Nathan Weese of Middlebourne, W.Va., all students in mechanical engineering. SoniWell is an eco-friendly, technology-based company that will design, test, patent and market an innovative product that will remove dissolved methane from water. SoniWell ultrasonic agitators utilize high frequency sound waves to agitate the water and release the dissolved methane. It is SoniWell’s mission to ensure methane-free potable water for private well owners across the United States.

Funded in part by a generous award from the Benedum Foundation and prize monies provided by Chesapeake Energy, this competition encourages college students of all academic ranks in all majors and programs throughout the state of West Virginia to develop and commercialize technology in the fields of the environment, energy, engineering, medicine and the natural and applied sciences.

Ten finalists were selected in December of 2012, and the teams spent the final four months of the competition refining their technology, preparing business plans and honing their presentation skills, all leading up to the final competition. These innovative and creative student teams presented their plans and pitches to a panel of judges from the venture capital, private industry and academic sectors.

“These student innovators are now in conversations with investors to seek the funding necessary for the commercialization of their products,” said Fonda Holehouse, teaching associate professor of agricultural and resource economics in the Davis College. “They were supported by various faculty and technical mentors as well as coaches throughout the process.”

Additional support was provided by the WVU College of Law Entrepreneurship and Innovation Law Clinic, Patricia Lee, director.

Guy Peduto of Innova Commercialization Group, a judge in the competition, indicated to the finalists in his post-competition remarks that he was “blown away” not only by the innovation but also by the level of professionalism the student exhibited in their presentations and the detail contained in the business plans.

Michele O’Connor of the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust, also a judge, was impressed with the creativity and sophistication of the work of the students and indicated that the future of technology in West Virginia was evident in the finalists.

Steven Cutright of the Brickstreet Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center, who served as a judge in the finals, stated that one finalist’s business plan was better than most he had seen from experienced entrepreneurs.

Other judges were: Anne Barth, executive director, Techconnect WV; Thomas Risley, Life Cycle Engineering, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Kathleen Cullen and Carl Irwin, National Research Center for Coal and Energy, Transtech Energy; Lynn Dombrowski, LAD Studios/SITEMPLOY; Lindsay Emery, WVU Office of Research and Economic Development and Jerry Fletcher, director, Division of Resource Management, WVU Davis College.

For the most part, the students participating in this challenge came from an innovative technology entrepreneurship class taught by Holehouse for the Statler College along with the support of James Smith, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Mary Hunt of the Benedum Foundation and Melinda Walls of Chesapeake Energy were on hand to present the prize money to the winners.



CONTACT: David Welsh, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design

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