The University of Maryland and its Atlantic Coast Conference partners, including Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, will lead a new, conference-hosted Clean Energy Business Challenge launching in the fall of 2011, encouraging students throughout the conference and the entire southeast United States to develop successful business plans and to create a new generation of American clean energy companies.

Funded by $2 million from the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the ACC Clean Energy Challenge is one of six regional winners selected by the DOE to be part of its inaugural nationwide network of student-focused clean energy business creation competitions over the next three years. The first national grand prize competition will be held during the summer of 2012 in Washington, D.C.

"By promoting innovation at our nation's universities and cultivating America's next generation scientific and technical leaders, we will ensure our nation's competiveness in the clean energy economy of tomorrow," said DOE Secretary Steven Chu. "The awards announced support the [Obama] administration's continued effort to ensure that America has the workforce we need to secure our energy future, create jobs here at home, and win the future."

The ACC Clean Energy Business Challenge combines the technology, business, and student strengths of all the ACC schools in the Southeast region, including Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest.

Together, these schools conduct more than $4 billion in cutting-edge research each year, with clean energy a clear focus. ACC schools are also home to hundreds of student researchers in the energy field and numerous student energy clubs.

"At Virginia Tech, we have an international reputation in the hybrid electric vehicle development, winning the international competition, EcoCAR, in 2011. We are also world leaders in clean coal technology and among the top ten departments in environmental engineering that focuses on many clean energy efforts," said Richard C. Benson, dean of Virginia Tech's College of Engineering and who holds the Torgersen Chaired Professorship. "I believe our ACC partnership in clean energy will prove to be beneficial to the economic competitiveness of our nation."

"This effort will help Virginia Tech build on assets like its corporate research center, VT KnowledgeWorks, and current successful startups in the region by Hokie alumni, i.e. TORC, VPT Inc., and PowerHub Systems, to develop programs and academic focus that will prepare the next generation of technology leaders and entrepreneurs," added Jack Lesko, associate dean for research and graduate studies at Virginia Tech's College of Engineering.

The conference's Clean Energy Challenge targets and is open to all ACC schools as well as other universities in the Southeast United States. The ACC Clean Energy Challenge finals event will rotate among three sub-regions with nearby ACC schools co-hosting each year. Maryland, Virginia, and Virginia Tech will co-host in the Washington, D.C. area in year one; Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest will co-host in the Research Triangle Park area in year two; and Clemson, Florida, Georgia Tech, and Miami will co-host in the Atlanta area in year three.

All full-time undergraduate and graduate students registered for the current semester at any university listed above are eligible to enter the competition. Judging for the ACC Clean Energy Challenge will be conducted by external parties from relevant professional industries with the appropriate skill sets and understanding of entrepreneurship and commercialization. Executive summary and semifinal rounds will be judged online, while the finals will be judged live, in-person. Details about the ACC Clean Energy Challenge will be made available shortly, including information for organizations interested in partnering with or sponsoring the ACC Clean Energy Challenge.

"We often see the most determined efforts and most spectacular achievements in sports in conference rivalries, and this ACC Clean Energy Challenge harnesses that competitive but friendly spirit and directs its potential and power towards solving some of this nation's toughest challenges," says University of Maryland's Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute Ventures Director Dean Chang. "Just about every single one of the deans of the engineering schools in the ACC thought this was a perfect way to show pride in our individual ACC schools while also working together in a collegial and impactful way to unite the best and most promising faculty innovations in clean energy with entrepreneurial students and student groups from across the ACC and the Southeast."

The other regional winners were the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., in the Northeast Region; the California Institute of Technology in Los Angeles, in the Western Region; Rice University in Houston, Texas, in the Western Southwest Region; Clean Energy Trust in Chicago, Ill., in the Eastern Midwest Region; and the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., in the Western Midwest Region.

Mtech was selected as the principal lead for the Southeast competition. Part of the internationally ranked and acclaimed A. James Clark School of Engineering, Mtech has had a $25.7 billion impact on the Maryland economy since 1983 through its three-part mission to: offer programs, courses, workshops and competitions to help aspiring entrepreneurs learn how to bring their ideas and products to the world; help faculty, student, and regional entrepreneurs create successful startup ventures; and help companies solve critical technical challenges and develop top-selling products that improve and save lives by connecting them with resources to succeed.

Mtech has built an entrepreneurship ecosystem at Maryland that encompasses entrepreneurship education from middle school through executive education, 30 entrepreneurship courses in 2010, two living-learning programs and one transfer program, an early stage lab, a venture accelerator and incubator, product development funding, free intellectual property services and entrepreneur office hours, as well as additional support for companies throughout their lifecycles.

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