Wolff Center Team REEcycle Sweeps National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition in Washington, D.C.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the ninth in a series of posts highlighting the success of student business plan teams from the Bauer College’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship in Spring 2014. Each year, WCE students work with the university’s Division of Research to develop commercialization plans for technologies developed at the university. Over the past 12 years, Bauer teams have had 21 podium finishes in national business plan competitions.
Four undergraduate students from the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston swept the competition in June during the National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition in Washington, D.C., winning all three awards for an innovative method of reclaiming rare earth elements from magnets in electronics.
The team, all students in Bauer’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, included Cassandra Hoang, Bobby Jacobs, Casey McNeil and Susan Tran. Their business plan focused on a technology developed by UH researcher Allan Jacobson, the Robert A. Welch Chair of Science and director of the university’s Texas Center for Superconductivity, that addresses rare earth elements (REE) used in computer memory, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, fluorescent lighting and more. Over the last several months, Bauer student teams have competed across the globe in business student competitions, consistently claiming the top spot among peers that included graduate and doctoral students from leading schools. Each student team partnered with a UH researcher to develop a commercialization plan for their technologies.
“This latest win from UH Bauer entrepreneurship students not only caps off a record-setting semester of success, it validates the work that we do in training our students to understand the business of energy and shows how prepared they are, not just within the classroom, but in venues that have real-world implications and impact,” Bauer Dean Latha Ramchand said. “Partnering with researchers from across the university has given our students the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship about commercializing technology to intellectual property that has been created right here on campus. This is a victory that should make the entire university and city proud.”
The National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), featured teams from each of the six regional DOE competitions. REEcycle won $100,000 last month in the regional Energy Department business plan competition at the California Institute of Technology.
“REEcycle reclaims critical rare earth elements from discarded hard drive magnets,” Tran said. “China controls over 97 percent of the world’s supply. Our business solves a national issue of rare earth element supply shortage.”
Jacobson credited the students for their hard work and thorough business plan to bring his intellectual property to market.
“They’re a terrific group,” Jacobson said. “They’ve done a terrific job of putting this business plan together. Now they have some funding.”
The team was awarded the Grand Prize, the Audience Investor Choice Award, consisting of audience votes, and the People’s Choice Award, which consisted of online votes. Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker contributed to the online voting push, tweeting her support of the students in the final hours of competition and encouraging Houstonians to do the same.
The Grand Prize award includes more than $50,000 in services from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, legal services from the Mintz Levin law firm and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Scientific American will write about the team and the technology.
Other teams competing in the DOE competition included the Georgia Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, the University of Colorado and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The competition, now in its third year, is part of President Obama’s Startup America Initiative, which aims to celebrate, inspire and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation.
By Amanda Sebesta