UTEP Water Recycling Team Wins Prestigious Investment Competition

May 6, 2013

The American Water Recycling team The American Water Recycling team is bookended by Robert Nachtmann, D.B.A., dean of the College of Business Administration, left, and Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering. The team, from left – Diego Capelitti, Eva Deemer and Alex Pastor – won the fifth annual Paso del Norte Venture Competition March 9 at UTEP.

American Water Recycling, a UTEP student startup company, won the $100,000 UT Horizon Fund Student Investment Competition May 2 at The University of Texas System headquarters in Austin.

The company, which uses the latest materials and technology to provide environmentally sound water recycling options at affordable prices, beat out 16 competitors who represented other UT System schools.

Eva Deemer, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering, led the AWR team. Her teammates are Diego Capeletti, an M.B.A. student, and Alex Pastor, a junior economics major.

There was no rest for the team, which has advanced into the semifinal round of the Global Venture Labs Investment Competition, considered the Super Bowl of investment competitions. The winner of the global contest, which also takes place in Austin, will be announced Saturday, May 4. AWR is among 45 teams competing from top universities in the United States and around the world, said Aaron Cervantes, coordinator of UTEP’s Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce.

“I feel we have a pretty good chance of winning [the global competition],” Cervantes said. The global competition includes awards in excess of $150,000 in cash and in-kind services.

The AWR team initially qualified for the UT Horizon Fund competition by winning the regional Paso del Norte Venture Competition March 9 at UTEP. After that event, Deemer said she felt confident that the team’s business plan could compete with anyone in the country, and that its technology could be used to tackle numerous environmental problems.

“We are on the verge of something big. This is not a joke technology. The sky is the limit,” Deemer said. The Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce, which helped sponsor the Paso del Norte contest and the UTEP teams that participated in this week’s Austin contests, is a joint venture between UTEP’s colleges of Engineering and Business Administration.

Robert Nachtmann, D.B.A., dean of the College of Business Administration, said this innovative student-centered activity creates value and integrates the common purpose of business and engineering students.

“Thanks to Mike Loya's gift to UTEP's colleges of Business Administration and Engineering, we have now planted the UTEP flag as a leader of academic integration that will result in market success for the state of Texas and the nation," Nachtmann said.

The AWR team was assisted in their preparation by Laura Bosworth of the Loya Center; Gary Williams and Jeni Clark, director and associate director, respectively, of UTEP’s Center for Research Entrepreneurship and Innovative Enterprises; and Russ Chianelli, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and director of UTEP’s Materials Research and Technology Institute.

Chianelli, Deemer’s dissertation chair, said that AWR was the product of an interdisciplinary course offered two years ago with a goal of promoting start-ups from theory to application.

He said the company’s next step is to go through the disclosure process and write patents for the technology and create new materials based on graphene, a carbon-based substance that is thin, strong and an efficient conductor of heat and electricity.

Equally impressed with the AWR victory was Bryan Allinson, founder and executive director of the UT Horizon Fund. He said the team’s presentation was the consensus winner in a strong field and that the judges were excited about the team’s use of innovative technology. He was especially impressed with Deemer’s passion and energy.

“(The AWR team) competed well. They were the best of the best. This is a big day for UTEP,” Allinson said.

He advised the team to use its winnings to focus on ways to improve and expand their products, develop relations with industry partners and find additional investors.

 
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