Would-be student tycoons from UA make their pitch for LaunchTown Entrepreneurship Awards


Michael Hripko was so impressed with the University of Akron’s finalist in the 2013 LaunchTown™ Entrepreneurship Awards competition that he invited engineering Ph.D. candidates Benjamin Kent and John Lavery and senior undergraduate student Brad Carley to present their ideas at Youngstown State University’s fifth annual Sustainable Energy Forum this June.

Hripko serves as director, STEM research and technology-based economic development at YSU’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The UA students’ company, ThermElectricity, developer of a thermal energy harvesting device that can economically convert any source of heat into electricity without emitting pollution, impressed the LaunchTown judges, too, but the competition was ultimately won by Disease Diagnostic Group, a team of malaria researchers from Case Western Reserve University. DDG won a $10,000 cash prize and $30,000 worth of mentoring and advisory services from local business leaders, venture capitalists and angel investors.

Energy harvester

Mentored by Erik Engeberg, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and S.I. Hariharan, professor of electrical and computer engineering, Kent, Lavery and Carley have developed a product, the Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) thermal energy harvesting device, that is paving the way for general energy harvesting that can capture energy from virtually any heat source, including heat generated by manufacturing activities, warm exhaust, hot and cold water reservoirs, your every day household appliances or even the heat escaping from the chimney of a home.

“Over 60 percent of the power generated each year is lost in waste heat. As a society that depends increasingly on electricity to function, this is a troublesome statistic,” Kent says. “The SMA device has the potential to help meet our growing energy needs, and do so in an environmentally sensible manner.”

And the device could prove lucrative as well. After interviewing more than 80 potential customers, the team has determined that the most promising initial customers for their device are industry and manufacturing.

Kent also praised Wayne Watkins, UA’s associate vice president for research and vice president and secretary of the University of Akron Research Foundation (UARF), as “an incredible asset” in helping ThermElectricity get off the ground. “We couldn’t have done any of this without our professors and Wayne Watkins,” Kent said.

Entrepreneurial experience

LaunchTown is an idea competition open to graduate-student-led teams with awards going to the best ideas submitted for a new business, product or service. Student entrepreneurs from each of the four finalists pitched their best ideas for a new business, product, or service to a live audience of angel investors, venture capitalists, fellow competitors and local business leaders. The purpose is to inspire and provide students a forum to experience what it is like to become an entrepreneur. With a focus on technology, the emphasis of the competition is on novel and exciting student-driven business ideas rather than full-scale business plans.

“Northeast Ohio’s economic future will decided by the companies that today's college students create here in the years to come,” said Tom Barratt, president of The Tom Barratt Companies and founder of the LaunchTown™ program. “I have been truly impressed with all the LaunchTown finalists over the years and their presentations at the live events. They represent our future.”

The event was open to college students from across Northeast Ohio. This year, 25 teams competed, representing UA, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Kent State University and Youngstown State University, among others. That field was narrowed to eight semifinalists and then four finalists.

For more information, visit the LaunchTown website at www.launchtown.com


  • UA College of Engineering

Media contact: Laura M. Massie, 330-972-6476 or massie1@uakron.edu