Two teams of entrepreneurs, one that tackled a critical recycling problem and one that’s trying to disrupt the oil and gas industry, each won $100,000 on Friday.
The two ventures were the top winners in the fourth ASU Innovation Open pitch competition at Arizona State University. This year’s event gave away $300,000 in funding, the most ever, and drew more than 100 applications from student-led companies. The 25 finalists represented 22 universities. Three ASU teams reached the finals: Sensagrate, NeXST Rehab and Halen. No ASU teams won prizes.
Carlos Navarro, a PhD student in chemistry at the University of Southern California, won the $100,000 Breakthrough Energy Ventures Prize for his business idea, Closed Composites. The company uses chemicals to recycle carbon composite — a very strong, lightweight material that’s used to make airplanes and cars. Currently, there’s no way to recycle the substance, which is typically shredded and burned.
“Engineers have been looking at this for decades and then we realized it’s not an engineering problem but a chemistry problem,” said Navarro, who can buy carbon composite scrap for $1 a pound and sell the recycled carbon fibers for $44 a pound to make items such as bicycles.
His prize money was donated by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, an investment fund started by Bill Gates.
“We focus on the technology gap that will enable scalability and reduce global emissions,” said Libby Wayman, one of the fund’s founders.
“We also look for things that are not in the market today and that are tough science problems.”