Student InnoVention winners focus on alternative energies and growing economies

The stars of Poly’s 1st Annual Time Warner Cable InnoVention student idea competition (left to right): Co-director Bruce Niswander, winners Christopher LoBello, Aung Thant, Ozgu Alay, Altaf Hajiyani and Samir Ajmera, Co-director Michael Hutmaker

Soaring energy costs, climate change, economic development in India – the winners of InnoVention, Poly’s first annual student idea competition, approach these pressing topics with ingenuity, providing a preview of how PolyThinking will shape the world of tomorrow.

InnoVention’s co-directors, Michael Hutmaker, Dean of Student Affairs, and Bruce Niswander, Director of Poly’s BEST Center, an incubator for startup companies, designed the competition to give student inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs the tools to refine their ideas into marketable products and services.

InnoVention participants began meeting in the fall semester to brainstorm about their ideas, attend workshops on things such as patent searches and market research, and get one-on-one business coaching from Mr. Niswander.

At the end of April, finalists presented their ideas to a panel of judges from industry and academia. At the awards luncheon that followed, Ann Lubrano, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and University Chief of Staff, spoke about the significance of the competition, which is expected to continue for at least two more years.

“The InnoVention competition is a major step in infusing I2E (invention, innovation and entrepreneurship) into the Poly experience,” said Ms. Lubrano. “The competition and the preparation and training that went into the presentations represent the students' ability to translate their professional knowledge into marketable products. Moreover, the skills necessary for success in this competition are the very skills that they will need as they enter the global economic world.”

Winning Idea: use nanotechnology and hydrogen to fuel the future
Samir Ajmera, a senior in the B.S.M.S. chemical and biological engineering program, Christopher LoBello, a senior physics student, and Aung Thant, an electrical engineering senior, won the undergraduate division with their process to create carbon nanotubes lined with titanium that can safely store hydrogen. Their invention, which they hold a provisional patent on, could be a huge breakthrough in hydrogen-powered products, especially in the design of hydrogen cars.

Mr. Ajmera, Mr. LoBello and Mr. Thant have been working together for two years with chemical engineering students Juan Pablo Borja and Lily Kuo. The students met in a nanotechnology class where they decided to develop a research project that combined their mutual interests in alternative energy sources with nanotechnology.

The industrious students, who save money by growing their own carbon nanotubes through a self-taught process they honed from reading many, many research papers, plan to perform experiments that prove their proposed process this summer. They hope that their InnoVention win will not only help to secure funding for their work, but that it’ll also entice students to join their team and carry on the project after they graduate.

Winning Idea: charge mobile devices with recycled body heat and kinetic energy
Ozgu Alay, a second-year electrical engineering graduate student, shared first place in the graduate division for her idea to create a battery charger for mobile devices that uses recycled kinetic, heat and sound energy.

Ms. Alay’s idea came to her while she was reading a journal article about battery-less watches. When she saw announcements about the InnoVention competition, she decided that participating would be the perfect way to solidify her idea.

She says that not all of the technology necessary to make her idea a functional product currently exists, but that it should very soon. In the meantime, she plans to submit a patent application for her battery charger.

Since she participated in InnoVention, Ms. Alay says that her mind has been flooded with new invention ideas. She’s been recording them with confidence that one will end up as an entry in next year’s competition.

Winning Idea: spur investment in India with the Internet
Altaf Hajiyani, an M.S. management candidate, shared first place in the graduate category and was the first person to enter the competition. His winning idea is to develop a web site that gives people from around the globe news and expert analysis about investment opportunities in India – from stocks to real estate. Visitors can then invest in their selected business, stock or property, through the site.

Like the other winners, Mr. Hajiyani began working on his idea before the InnoVention competition began. During the course of the competition, he says that his biggest challenge was getting a good picture of the legal issues involved in creating his business.

Among the reasons Mr. Hajiyani cites for why his site is necessary and potentially successful is the fact that India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, has a well-developed banking system, a strong and independent judicial system, and U.S. investments in India have already proven profitable. Mr. Hajiyani plans to pitch his idea to E*Trade and Fidelity.

InnoVention is sponsored by Time Warner Cable