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Engineering Teams Rise to Challenge in Elevator Pitch

Six teams containing engineering students or faculty members scored prize money in the recent Executive Summary & Elevator Pitch phase of the University of Massachusetts Innovation Challenge, which handed out $10,000 to promising teams of aspiring entrepreneurs. Innovation Challenge competitors are interdisciplinary teams developing marketable business concepts while working in consultation with faculty members and external advisors. SMASH, based on a new software technique to reduce the energy consumption of battery-powered devices, nailed one of the four top prizes of $1,750 apiece. Dr. Wayne Burleson (pictured) of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department was one of the faculty advisors for SMASH.

Other SMASH team members were doctoral candidate Mastooreh Salajegheh and faculty advisor Dr. Kevin Fu, both of the Computer Science Department.

Five other engineering teams garnered $500 prizes in the contest. Cozy Solar Solutions proposes an affordable, heat-producing, solar panel made from recycled products that can be used in most places around the world. Team members included mechanical engineering undergraduates Gregory Margolis, Steven Hart, and Shane Desmond, and faculty advisor Dr. Robert Hyers of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department.

Sneakers for Success, the brainchild of mechanical engineering undergraduate Samuel del Pilar, is an educational organization that uses urban “sneaker culture” as the basis for a nontraditional curriculum aimed at keeping students in school. The faculty advisor is Dr. Joseph Hamill of the Kinesiology Department.

ReNano, which is conceiving a product with the ability to update the functionality of consumer electronics after shipping, was formed by electrical engineering graduate students Prasad Shabadi, Sankara Narayanan Rajapandian, and Mostafizur Rahman, mechanical engineering undergrad Hristo Goumnerov, and faculty advisor Dr. Andras Moritz of the ECE department.

Sweet Seat, composed of industrial engineering undergraduate John Woodward, biology undergrad Leona Chan, and faculty advisor Dr. Sundar Krishnamurty of the MIE department, is designing an innovative bicycle seat that addresses customer needs at a low price.

Finally, SkiandRideCheap.com envisions an online community for skiers throughout New England that will maximize the availability of discounted lift tickets. The brain trust is made up of MIE undergraduates Timothy Young and Ben Sahagian, joined by faculty advisor Hyers.

The awards were based on a two-to-three-page executive summary of a concept and business plan, handed in by each team to judges before the event, and each team presenting a two-minute elevator pitch during the actual competition. After each elevator pitch, competitors also had to answer probing questions from the judges and audience.

Judges for the executive summary competition are entrepreneurs, legal experts, and consultants who volunteer their time to evaluate contestants during the competition, after meeting with them in the weeks beforehand to give constructive advice on their business plans.

The final phase of the academic year-long contest will happen in April, when finalists will compete for more than $50,000 in grand prize money during the University of Massachusetts Innovation Challenge Final Business Plan Competition.

The UMass Innovation Challenge is supported by Eugene M. and Ronnie Isenberg and the following sponsors: Wolf Greenfield; Saint-Gobain; Joseph Bohan; Cantor Colburn LLP; CISCO; Raytheon; Vistagy; Wayne Boulais '85, '88 MS; Stephen Dunne '89; Provenance Venture Partners; Michael Tunstall '82; and Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting. (December 2011).