University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Startups Dominate Ocean Exchange Competition

11/16/2016 8:48:31 AM

Sun Buckets, Touch Light take home top prizes

Sun Buckets, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign startup that collects, stores and recovers solar thermal energy to use in cooking, space heating, drying, phone charging and lighting, won the 2016 Gulfstream® Navigator Award and $100,000 at the Ocean Exchange Annual Event, November 9-11 in Savannah, Georgia.

Touch Light Innovations, an Illinois startup that harvests ambient energy to power our daily use tools and create a green environment, received top honors and $10,000 in the BIG Pitch Competition for collegiate-level solutions.

“The Sun Buckets team left Ocean Exchange feeling inspired, grateful, and ready to get to work,” says Samantha Lindgren, Sun Buckets teammate. “The delegates who voted for the solutions and awards, came from a variety of backgrounds and fields, and collectively were highly creative individuals with impressive sets of credentials. We benefitted from the richness of their ideas and experience, and we took with us their perspectives. The experience will help shape our future as a company, and that is very exciting!”

Members of the Sun Buckets team have big plans for their winnings as well.

“We are going to use the prize money to solve a piece of the Global Cooking Problem,” says Lindgren. “Nearly half the world’s population burns solid fuels such as firewood, charcoal, and animal waste inside their homes to cook. The indoor air pollution from these fires causes respiratory illnesses that claim millions of lives prematurely every year, and the emissions are responsible for more than 20 percent of global climate forcing. In some parts of the world, collecting fuel for cooking fires takes up so much time that women and children are deprived of the opportunity for paid work and education. In other parts of the world, households spend in excess of 25 percent of their annual income on fuel for their cooking fires. We would like to alleviate some of that burden, and this award will help us get on our way.”

Swarnav Pujari, a sophomore in Materials Science and Engineering and founder of TLI, is excited about their future after attending the competition.

“We gained support and multiple connections in influential positions,” says Pujari. “With the community and support we received the Power Pad is closer to stepping into the market now more than ever.”

The Power Pad, the flagship product for Touch Light Innovations, is a low profile, square foot size device that sits under any moderate to heavy traffic location and generates electricity from every step.

“We are putting the money toward building our demo device which mimics an actual install to show to our interested clients and for bringing on a few engineers and consultants to help finalize our technology,” says Pujari.

Both Sun Buckets and Touch Light Innovations participated in the Technology Entrepreneur Center 2016 Cozad New Venture Competition. Touch Light won 2nd place in the Non-University Resourced Track. Along with in-kind prizes from +Adjacency, EnterpriseWorks and Singleton Law Firm. While Sun Buckets took the Best Energy Specific Award.

“It’s exciting to see teams that did well in Cozad continue to succeed,” says Ashley Hipsher, TEC Marketing Coordinator.