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Engineering Students’ Startup among Finalists for Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship Innovation Challenge

Dean Sanjay Raman and Ethan Gorman

Dean Raman and Ethan Gorman

The startup Sequeschar, led by six mechanical engineering students, has been selected as one of the preliminary round winners for the Innovative Challenge, the university’s premier pitch event in the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship. Sequeschar will now compete on April 13 in the finals, where they can receive up to $65,000 in equity-free funding. 

The four other teams heading to the finals are Microbeblaster, FUD, Campus Atlas, and MIGCIP Innovation Labs AI-Visa. Also representing engineering is Deepshika Reddy Bongunoori, a graduate student in engineering management, who is one of the driving forces behind MIGCIP Innovation Labs AI-Visa.

Sequeschar 

Mechanical engineering majors Ethan Gorman, Megan Anderson, Lincoln Wiggan, Jack Sunko, Conor McGovern and Joe Manchester are finalists for their startup, Sequeschar, which proposes to transform the spent grains used by brewers into biochar for carbon capture, soil amendment and renewable energy. 

“We all may be familiar with beer, but maybe we don’t realize the environmental impact,” Gorman said in his Tech Challenge pitch. “Producing just one six-pack of beer is equivalent to charging your phone 158 times or burning 1.4 lbs of coal.” 

The brewing process generates a massive amount of waste, he said, because 85% of the physical byproduct of brewing is spent grain. Annually it amounts to 36 million tons. While much of the grains are given away to farmers as animal feed, the waste from urban brewers is often sent to landfills. 

“In either case, carbon dioxide is rapidly re-emitted into the atmosphere,” Gorman said. 

The Sequeschar device uses a thermochemical treatment known as pyrolysis to shift 50% of the carbon in the biomass by transforming it into biochar. It can then be safely stored underground for later use, where it “is a great soil amendment, helping to retain nutrients and water,” he said. The combustible pyrolysis vapors that are also generated during the process can be captured and used to supplement a brewery’s natural gas usage or to dry the fresh grains for brewing. 

“Biochar has massive scaling potential through the adoption of new feedstocks such as organic agricultural residues, organic trash and cardboard. We’ve got to keep organic waste out of our landfills,” Gorman said.

MIGCIP Innovation Labs AI-Visa 

MIGCIP Innovation Labs AI-Visa aims to improve visas using a cognitive- and artificial intelligence-driven system that streamlines the application process. 

Krishna Chaitanya Rao Kathala, Rahul Gundeti, Sathvik Reddy Kandi and Niharika Pola, all pursuing master’s degrees in data analytics and computational science; Deepshika Reddy Bongunoori, a graduate student in engineering management, and undergraduate Abhi Keerthan Rao, operations and information management systems, are the driving forces behind MIGCIP Innovation Labs AI-Visa.  

“Preparing a visa application takes six to eight hours on average,” the team members say. “The stakes are incredibly high for individuals applying for F-1 student visas. For those students accepted to universities, the outcome of the visa interview determines their future.”  

Hundreds of thousands of student visa applications are denied every year, they say, and many are for reasons that can be avoided or fixed, such as erroneously applying for a visa in the wrong category or displaying low confidence during the interview process.  

“Our AI-based platform automates all aspects of visa preparation, from form filling to generating supporting documents and mock visa interviews as well as providing personalized feedback,” the team says. 

Their system uses cognitive intelligence-derived technology that simulates complex human psychological processes through artificial intelligence, computer vision, natural language process, data mining and others to “enable social cognitive learning for customers in understanding and predicting human behavior.” 

The current process also involves several physical touch points such as finding the right resources for visa interview preparation, having photos taken and applications notarized in-person, they say. The team adds that “In a COVID-impacted world, travelers are actively seeking digital alternatives that do not involve such interactions.” 

Headquartered in the Isenberg School of Management, the Berthiaume Center is the central hub of a cross-campus network of scholars, innovators and entrepreneurs, with a three-fold mission of supporting research, education and practice, all targeted at facilitating the transformation of ideas into business realities.