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UW EE Students Make Sweet 16 Round at UWBPC

Written by Tommy Merth and Carley Rich, UW EE Undergraduate Student Employees, Public Relations team

Congratulations to Di Sun and Shane Colburn and their teams for making the Sweet 16 round at the UW Business Plan Competition (UWBPC). While the UWBPC is geared toward entrepreneur majors, students from the Electrical Engineering department have always played a large role in development of projects and success of teams. Two years ago, EE Ph.D. student Sep Makhsous and his “Pure Blue Technologies” team took the grand prize. This year, two UW EE students have qualified for the “Sweet Sixteen”, while a third made it to the round of 32. We had the opportunity to sit down and talk with two of the students participating in the BPC – Di Sun from “Aquapel” and Shane Colburn from “Ocumen”. Good luck in the final round of competition on May 26, 2016.

Di Sun: Aquapel and Sustainable Energy

Di Sun and his team seek to implement a self cleaning solar panel system. This innovation would have countless benefits for solar energy production, as it decreases the operation cost and resource usage of solar power plants.

For Di, Aquapel has been many years in the making. Di was raised in China, completed his undergraduate degree at Case Western Reserve University, and is now pursuing his Ph.D. in Microfabrication here at UW EE. He devised this self cleaning technology for smart phones and tablets during his first year at UW. Later, he participated in an environmental innovation challenge – also hosted by the Foster School of Business – which gave him valuable experience “sussing out an idea”. It was this combined interest in nanotechnology and environmental sustainability that led him to develop the concept of a self cleaning solar panel.

A special coating on the solar panels tracks water droplets and manipulates their movement to clean the surface. Di explains that cleaner panels are capable of generating more solar power, which in turn means more sustainable energy. He emphasized that these panels are feasible not just for large scale farms and corporations, but also for residential areas.

Shane Colburn: Ocumen

EE Ph.D. student Shane Colburn is developing an implantable eye monitor that would detect symptoms of glaucoma. Upon completion of his undergraduate degree at the UW, Shane came back to earn his Ph.D in Electrical Engineering with a concentration in nanophotonics. He currently works in the NOISE lab under EE professor Arka Majumdar, which he says led to his involvement in the BPC. Shane said that his EE core classes taught him “how to approach things at a high level, and break them down, which has helped a lot with [Ocumen].”

The Ocumen system is an implantable eye sensor that measures the internal pressure of the eye to a higher degree of accuracy than current devices. Using this information, patients could receive a faster and more definitive diagnosis. Shane says that if the project continues after the competition, he would be interested in continuing development. If FDA approved, Ocumen could be used to help treatment of the glaucoma, which is one of the leading causes of blindness.

Both Aquapel and Ocumen have been selected out of the initial 96 teams to contend for first prize. This year marks the 19th year of the Foster School of Business Business Plan Competition (BPC). Participating teams pitch startup ideas to judges and advance in tournament style knock-out rounds. They are evaluated on various criteria, including their competitive strategy, feasibility, environmental awareness, and presentation. The students competing in the BPC come from a diverse background of majors including engineering, business, communications, biology and foreign language. Later this month, each team will undergo a coaching round, allowing teams to refine their business strategy. Then on May 26th, along with the other top 16 teams, Aquapel and Ocumen will compete for the grand prize, with the winner taking home $25,000, while $60,000 is distributed among runner-ups and honorable mentions. A full list of awards and sponsors can be found here. Although the judging round is closed to the public, frequent updates can be found at the UW Buerk Center Facebook page.

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