Two teams that included students from Virginia Tech's Pamplin College of Business and the College of Engineering received a total of $10,000 in seed funding for their clean energy ventures in the inaugural Union Innovation Challenge, sponsored by Union Bank & Trust.

The grand prize went to undergraduate students M.J. Rice, of Reisterstown, Maryland, a senior majoring in biological systems engineering, and Brett Langstaff, of New Providence, New Jersey, a sophomore majoring in finance, who took home $7,500 for their proposed product, EcoPipe, a bacteria-based additive for “self-healing” pipe and a temporary fix for pipeline damage.

“On average, 19.2 million barrels of crude oil are transported each day in the U.S.,” said Rice. “This translates to more than 7 billion barrels per year. Of these 7 billion barrels, approximately 113,000 barrels are spilled each year,” she said. “Our product provides a solution to this unmet need.”

Rice and Langstaff said the competition renewed their energies and hopes. “The pitch gave us valuable experience presenting our company in front of investors and gave us a realistic idea of what to expect moving forward,” said Rice. “More important than the prize, winning gave us key contacts and feedback crucial for planning the company’s next step. The new network of professionals and support is an invaluable component for EcoPipe’s future.”

Runners-up Keith Heyde, of Wilton, Connecticut, a Ph.D. student in engineering mechanics; Emile Fares, also of Wilton, Connecticut, and a graduate of Boston and Duke universities; and Cortney Mecimore, of Centreville, a sophomore majoring in marketing, were awarded $2,500 for their venture, Crobial Solutions, which seeks to make a low-cost, low-power agricultural smart sensor that could be mobile and implanted within livestock.

“Business competitions like this bring excitement into the research process,” said Heyde. “They give people a chance to see how their work could potentially be leveraged in the market. By having students participate in competitions like this, we are able to reinforce Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim motto while fostering creativity.”

Launched in February, the challenge asked applicant teams to come up with a clean energy innovation. The top five teams pitched their proposals during the Virginia Tech Alumni Association’s Drillfield Series “What Fuels Our Planet?” on March 21. The weekend culminated with an evening ceremony where the winners were recognized.

“The impressive ideas pitched at this year’s Union Innovation Challenge showcased the incredible technology that students are developing to change the world,” said Derick Maggard, executive director of Pamplin's Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. "I want to thank Union for their generous support and vision in building this opportunity." 

“Union fosters innovation through small business lending across Virginia,” said D. Anthony Peay, executive vice president and chief banking officer. “By working with Virginia Tech to develop entrepreneurial skills in students through experiential learning, mentoring, and connecting them to the right resources, Union hopes to seed the next generation of business leaders at Virginia Tech.”



Written by Ashley DeLuca
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