QD Tech Wins UMass Amherst Innovation Challenge, Receives $35,000 Grand Prize for Plan To Improve Solar Cell Output

AMHERST, Mass. – QD Tech has won the $35,000 grand prize in the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Innovation Challenge Final Business Plan Competition. The winning team plans to produce quantum-dot‐based materials designed to improve solar cells.

The Innovation Challenge is a competition for the best innovation-driven business plan produced by students, recent alumni and faculty advisors at UMass Amherst. The program, which includes a preliminary elevator pitch contest, as well as mentoring and educational events throughout the year, culminated in the investor presentations by four finalists this week.

“QD Tech aims to increase solar cell power output by adding a quantum dot active layer to increase existing solar cells’ efficiency,” the team said in describing its technology. “Our proprietary quantum dot synthesis method allows us to do this at relatively low cost, when compared to the traditional quantum dot synthesis.”

The $25,000 second-place prize went to Bug Power, a biotech company planning to produce a talented strain of bacteria that can simultaneously clean up waste, eliminate odor and generate electricity in portable toilets.

“Our first product is the eToilet—an eco-friendly, electricity-generating toilet that uses waste to power fans, lights and sensors that make portable toilets cleaner, brighter and odorless,” as the Bug Power team described its goal. “We are confident that the eToilet will be a breath of fresh air for the $1 billion portable toilet rental industry.”

Soapbox, which seeks to empower community initiatives through an Internet platform that influences government, business and NGO activities for the common good, received the third prize of $10,000.

QD Tech aims to bridge the gap between current and next‐generation solar cells by increasing the efficiency of the current technology, while at the same time keeping production costs near their current levels. By employing a quantum-dot‐based optical coating, QD Tech intends to increase the efficiency of both silicon and thin‐film cells by 5 percent. The team consists of MBA student Mike Deschamps, chemistry doctoral student Kevin Early and chemical engineering doctoral student Tracy Heckler.

The members on the second-place Bug Power team are physics doctoral candidate Nikhil Malvankar, operations management doctoral candidate Xuan Huang, electrical engineering undergraduate Danxiang Li, and hospitality and tourism graduate student Apurv Mathur. Team members for Soapbox are Conor White-Sullivan, an undergraduate majoring in anthropology, and Bengy Messner, an undergraduate in the Bachelor''s Degree with Individual Concentration program.

The Innovation Challenge is an initiative of the Isenberg Program for the Integration of Management, Engineering and Science as a cross-campus collaboration of the College of Engineering and the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

The founding Platinum Sponsor of the Innovation Challenge is Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C. “As specialists in intellectual property, we are heavily invested in fostering innovation in the Commonwealth,” said Edmund Walsh of the company. “We are pleased to be able to work with this talented group of innovators."

The other Platinum Sponsor is Saint-Gobain. “Saint-Gobain has enjoyed being a sponsor, judge and mentor for the Innovation Challenge and the student teams for the past couple of years,” said Michael Mahoney, a research associate at that company. “A number of excellent innovative ideas and new businesses have been initiated as a result of this competition. It is also a tribute to the collaborative teaching efforts between the College of Engineering and the School of Management at UMass Amherst that the quality of the entrepreneurial teams and their business plans has continually improved.”

“The Innovation Challenge is designed to give participants a taste of the challenges that must be overcome in the real world to translate a concept into a high impact business or nonprofit enterprise,” noted Michael Malone, the Ronnie & Eugene Isenberg Distinguished Professor and the Dean of Engineering. “In addition, we aim to inspire and encourage innovators across the campus and connect them with experienced mentors. The diversity of the teams that compete underscores the great depth and breadth of UMass Amherst.”

Since 2005, the Innovation Challenge has awarded more than $270,000 in prize money to 20 different student-led teams. The competition is designed to help students and young alumni pursue novel business ideas by developing new technologies into marketable products or making new approaches to difficult problems. The goal is for each interdisciplinary team to conceptualize a product with regard to its scientific and technological design and create a business plan for the product’s commercialization.

Besides Platinum Sponsors Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks and Saint-Gobain, other sponsors of the Innovation Challenge are Forge Partners; Cooley Godward Kronish LLP; Joseph Bohan; Scott Perry ’82; Raytheon; VISTAGY; Stephen Dunne ’89; Stephen Collins ’81; Bart Stuck & Mary-Jane Cross ’66; Michael Tunstall ’82, and Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting. In addition to the sponsors, support is provided by Eugene and Ronnie Isenberg.

More information is available at www.umass.edu/innovation.

Contact: Michael Malone, 413/545-6388, mmalone@ecs.umass.edu