Students have a hit at business pitch

A team involving two University of Washington Bothell students won a $2,500 award in the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship business plan competition.

The Aquapel team won the Smukowski Family Best Sustainable Advantage award that goes to the best sustainable product.

The team with UW Bothell students Adam Zhu, right, and Bruno Ouattara and four UW students in Seattle made it to the Sweet 16 finals on May 26 at the UW’s Foster School of Business. They were among a dozen student teams who won a total of $85,000 in prize money.

The teams gave a 15-minute pitch and had a 15-minute question round with seven judges, who were venture capitalists, lawyers and entrepreneurs.

Aquapel is a self-cleaning system for solar panels that vibrates water droplets and dirt off a panel’s textured surface.

Only in his second year at UW Bothell, Zhu was a founder of the team along with
Di Sun, a second-year doctorate student in electrical engineering from China, and Jenny Wang, a 2016 graduate in political science. Other team members are
Mariko Howard, a third-year Japanese major from Seattle, and David Zerby, a master’s in business administration student from Seattle graduating this year.

Sun brought his research from Karl Boringer’s Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) lab and Zhu pushed to apply it to solar panels.

Ouattara was involved because of his previous work on a prosthetic hand project with Zhu. They built some of the Aquapel components at UW Bothell’s Makerspace lab. Ouattara missed pitch day to work on his senior capstone project, as he is graduating with a mechanical engineering degree and already has a job offer from Intel.

The business pitch competition put the team in contact with potential partners, including a solar panel manufacturing company. Because the UW holds a patent on the technology, the first step is a potential agreement with CoMotion, the University’s innovation accelerator, says Zhu.

Next, is finding an investor and a way to potentially open an international market.

“We are planning to become primarily a licensing and consulting company,” he says.

Zhu, who lives in Seattle and came to the United States from China as a 4-year-old with his family, says he’s wanted to create applications for research but didn’t think he’d be able to do it in his second year of college.

He thanks Pierre Mourad, engineering and mathematics associate professor, and Ivan Owen, Makerspace lab manager.

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