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Precision Slip Wins Innovation Challenge

Precision Slip – a team led by mechanical engineering graduate student Robert Daniello and his faculty advisor, Dr. Jonathan Rothstein of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department – has won the $50,000 grand prize in the University of Massachusetts Amherst Innovation Challenge Final Business Plan Competition. The winning team plans to produce drag-reducing marine coatings, a nanotechnology developed by Rothstein that will dramatically cut fuel consumption and significantly increase speed of watercraft.

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 in December, as well as mentoring and educational events throughout the year, culminated in the investor presentations by five finalists at the April 22 event.

“Our novel coating technology has been shown to significantly reduce drag in the laboratory,” the team said in describing its product. “We look forward to demonstrating its efficacy in the real word.”

Second place prizes of $12,500 each went to Aha! Productions, a company developing software to enhance the capacity of scientists and engineers to innovate, and Localocracy, a peer-to-peer online platform for local politics that will enable citizens to learn about local issues, make decisions, and impact their government.

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, College of Natural Sciences, the Isenberg School of Management, and the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement at UMass Amherst.

The founding Platinum Sponsor of the Innovation Challenge is Wolf Greenfield. “We are pleased to be able to support the future of the Commonwealth by encouraging innovation and fostering the development of young entrepreneurs,” said Edmund Walsh of that company.

The other Platinum Sponsor is Saint-Gobain. “We have recently made a multi-year commitment to support research and innovation on the UMass Amherst campus, funding graduate students and the annual Innovation Challenge,” said Michael Mahoney of this company. “The benefits to our company have already started returning in terms of new product ideas, access to emerging technologies, and even new hires.”

“Thanks to our sponsors, over the last five years we have awarded $355,000 to student-led teams and have begun to see real companies emerge,” noted Michael Malone, the Ronnie & Eugene Isenberg Distinguished Professor and the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement. “This year’s spring competition resulted in a record total of dollars awarded at a single event, $75,000 - well deserved by these three nascent ventures.”

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 and Saint-Gobain, the UMass Amherst Innovation Challenge is supported by Eugene M. and Ronnie Isenberg; Joseph Bohan; Paul Carney ’82; Forge Partners; Eric Janszen ’04; Scott Perry ’82; Raytheon; Signal Lake; VISTAGY; Stephen Dunne ’89; Wayne Boulais ’85, ’88; Tom Gray ’87; Michael Tunstall ’82; Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting. (April 2010)