• Members of the grand-prize-winning team in the MIT 100k Competition, from left to right, Krishna Yeshwant, Roozbeh Ghaffari, Hayat Sindi, Carol Waghorne, Jon Puz, Gilbert Tang.

    Photo / Jeremy Gilbert

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Entrepreneurship contests reward energy, diagnosis plans

Business plans focused on harnessing clean energy and making fast, inexpensive medical diagnostic devices were big winners this week in a series of high-profile entrepreneurship competitions at MIT.

Diagnostics for All, a nonprofit company that has developed a unique process for making simple medical test kits out of paper, was the top winner of MIT's 100K Entrepreneurship Competition. The company's inexpensive tests require only a single drop of blood to provide a color-coded response indicating the presence of any of several different diseases.

The week's biggest winner, however, was a company called FloDesign Wind Turbine, which has an innovative way of building wind turbines with much shorter blades, housed inside a ring, based on jet-engine designs. The system can generate power in much slower winds than a conventional windmill and is said to be three to four times more efficient. Because of its smaller overall size, it is also expected to cost less.
FloDesign won the inaugural $200,000 MIT Clean Energy Entrepreneurship Prize and also won the separate Ignite Clean Energy competition, sponsored by the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge, for an additional $100,000. And the publicity generated by the contests has already led to discussions with potential venture capital investors (including Al Gore's company, according to press reports), who may provide the $8 million the company says it needs to build a full-scale operational prototype.

Nearly two decades after its creation, the 100K competition has become the world's leading business-plan contest. Organizers say the competition has facilitated the birth of more than 85 companies with a market capitalization of more than $10 billion to date. This year's 100K contest started out last fall with 230-plus entries. In February, those were narrowed down to 35--a total of five finalists in each of seven categories ranging from aerospace to biotech. Winners were selected in each of the seven areas--with prizes of at least $10,000 for each.

This year, for the first time, the audience that packed Kresge Auditorium for the final 100K contest awards also got to pick their own winner. The Audience Choice award, an additional $10,000, went to Covalent Solar, a team made up of three MIT alums who came up with an inexpensive way of concentrating sunlight onto photovoltaic cells using sheets of treated plastic, without requiring a mechanism to track the sun.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 21, 2008 (download PDF).

Topics: Business and management, Energy, Entrepreneurship, Health sciences and technology, Contests and academic competitions


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