2017 Illinois Innovation Prize Finalists Announced

4/19/2017 3:24:33 PM

URBANA, Ill. – Each year the Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) and the College of Engineering honor outstanding students with the Illinois Innovation Prize. Today, the TEC announces finalists for the award, which includes $20,000 in prize money distributed among the four finalists. The winner will be announced and awarded at the Entrepreneurship Forum scheduled for Wednesday, April 26 at the Illini Union.  

The Illinois Innovation Prize honors a student who stands out as a passionate and creative innovator and entrepreneur, who is working with world-changing technology, and is seen as a role model to others. The University of Illinois is a world leader in research, innovation and leadership, and distinguishes itself by creating knowledge and preparing students for lives of impact while addressing critical societal needs through invention and entrepreneurship.

Finalists for the 2017 Illinois Innovation Prize include:

Bilge Acun; Ph.D. Candidate in Computer Science

Bilge is the main inventor of three patent-pending technologies and the author of nine peer-reviewed papers. She is working to create awareness about the massive energy consumption and environmental impact that goes along with using computing technologies. As well as creating innovations outside her Ph.D. research field, she is developing a human-computer interaction device for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome patients and people with wrist, arm, and shoulder injuries.

Olaoluwapo Ajala; Ph.D. Candidate in Electrical and Computer Engineering

Olaoluwapo’s research is focused on energy resource optimization technology. His passion for energy stems from his childhood in Nigeria where the lack of constant power supply creates major problems for homes and businesses. Because of these problems, owners have to purchase small-scale diesel generators, battery-storage systems, solar photovoltaic systems, and other small-scale power generators to meet their electricity needs. Olaoluwapo’s innovation connects homes and businesses within a small geographical area electrically to create stand-alone power systems—technically known as micro grids. The micro grid concept is a common one, but Olaoluwapo’s technology will allow systems is these areas to interconnect and for home and business owners to share electricity from various sources.

Lucas Frye; MBA Candidate

Lucas is the co-founder and CEO of Amber Agriculture, a startup that helps farmers monitor and manage the condition of their crops in storage  through a system of wireless sensors communicating information connected to a phone app, so the farmers can capture the highest possible price per bushel. Lucas utilized his Bachelors of Science in Agricultural and Consumer Economics along with his co-founders engineering skills to win the 2016 Cozad New Venture Competition. Since then, Amber Agriculture has taken part in the iVenture Accelerator and was named the Best Startup at the Consumer Electronics Show by Engadget.

Daniel Gardner; Senior in Electrical Engineering

Daniel is the co-founder and CEO of Mesh++, a startup that uses low-cost Wi-Fi transceivers to bring affordable wireless communication to developing countries. Daniel thinks of innovation as being able to see something in a new light, to bring out a solution that was not clear before. That is how he came up with the idea for Mesh++. Taking an idea that was standard and expanding on it to bring Wi-Fi to remote areas around the world. And, with Wi-Fi comes educational materials, e-commerce, and many other life-changing technologies. Daniel and his work on Mesh++ won the top prize at the largest ever ECE Senior Design competition at Illinois and a spot in the iVenture Accelerator.


The Illinois Innovation Prize, administered by the Technology Entrepreneur Center in the College of Engineering, is awarded on an annual basis to the most innovative student on campus. This year, TEC will reward and recognize the most innovative student on campus with up to $20,000. This student is a passionate innovator, working with world-changing technology, entrepreneurially minded and a role model for others.


This two-day event allows attendees to participate in hands-on workshops and panel discussions to learn: how to validate your idea for industry, entrepreneurial resources available on campus, funding, and protecting your intellectual property. Faculty and students will be able to provide their feedback on the new Siebel Center for Design on Tuesday morning before lunch and panel discussions. On Wednesday, April 26, all Cozad New Venture Competition finalists will showcase their ideas and compete for prizes during the finals competition at 2:15 p.m. in addition to the awarding of the 2017 Illinois Innovation Prize. More information and the schedule of events can be found at go.illinois.edu/forum.