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Enabling Green Chemistry Innovation from the Start(up)

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On Wednesday, June 18, the ACS GCI hosted the final round of the 2014 Green Chemistry and Engineering Business Plan Competition. Four semi-finalists arrived at the 18th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in Bethesda, MD to present their business plans to a panel of expert judges and compete for a $10,000 prize. The day was much anticipated after months of preliminary activities which included an executive summary round, a business plan round, and a social media round.

With the intent of enabling new technologies and providing entrepreneurship-related educational opportunities for the green chemistry community, the ACS GCI put out a call in early 2014 for executive summaries from early-stage green chemistry and engineering companies. From more than a dozen applications, the four semi-finalists were selected:

  • Cell-Free Bionnovations: high energy density sugar-powered biobatteries for portable gadgets that are biodegradable and refillable
  • Circa Group: decreasing dependence on oil & gas by bringing a new waste cellulose-based solvent to market
  • SioTeX: transforming an industry by replacing fumed silica with a low-cost and ecofriendly solution
  • U.S. Bioplastics: cost competitive biobased plastic packaging from sugarcane waste

The semi-finalists were then provided a free subscription to Business Plan Pro and a free webinar on the software led by Dr. Dan Daly, the Director of Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs. With this new toolbox, the teams then had to complete a full written business plan and prepare a twelve minute presentation for the in-person final round (which together, constituted 70% of their final score).

In an effort to raise awareness of green chemistry and emphasize the important role chemistry plays in all of our lives, the third and most unique component of this competition was the social media score (which was the remaining 30% of the teams’ final score). We ran a crowdsourcing campaign called “Change the World with Green Chemistry,” which allowed for anyone in the world to have a stake in this competition. This platform enabled individuals from all backgrounds to learn how these new technologies are changing the world and then vote for the one(s) they want to see come to market.

By the time the final competition rolled around, the campaign generated more than $3,000. The teams were well-practiced and ready to present to the expert judges: Dr. Eric Beckman (Professor of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and Co-Director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation), Dr. Dan Daly, and Joe Indvik (Co-Founder, COO, and President of SparkFund); these three judges also sat on an afternoon panel, "Science, Sustainability, & Entrepreneurship." After watching all four presentations and grilling each team with hard-hitting questions, the judges deliberated and selected SioTeX as the grand prize winner!

SioTex  Daly with check (3).jpgDan Daly presents the grand prize to Ash Kotwal, Lisa Taylor, and Gary Beall of SioTeX.

“The ACS GCI Business Plan Competition provided additional validation of our innovative technology and further demonstrated the team's ability to effectively communicate our corporate strategy,” said Ash Kotwal and Lisa Taylor. “Being announced as the Grand Prize Winner during the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference also gave us a greatly appreciated opportunity to network with academic and industry professionals throughout the remainder of the proceedings.”

SioTeX makes a product called Eco-Sil from rice hulls, an alternative to fumed silica. The product can be used in paints, plastics, and tires, a market which SioTex reports is worth $1.5 billion in annual sales. The company was created by Haoran Chen, a graduate student in the Ph.D. program at Texas State University, after he developed the technology. Chen currently serves as the company's CTO with his team, Marcus Goss (COO), Ash Kotwal (VP of Manufacturing), Lisa Taylor (VP of Sales and Marketing), Cesar Rivera (CCO), and George Steinke (CEO). They are looking forward to constructing their pilot plant this fall to scale production of Eco-Sil.

We look forward to watching SioTeX and the other competing companies develop, and to preparing for next year’s competition which will be hosted at the 19th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in July 2015!

Thank you to all who participated in the competition! And a huge thank you again to our three judges/panelists who helped review the applications and make the day a huge success. We also would like to thank Dr. Michael Lefenfeld (President of SiGNa Chemistry) and Dr. Rui Resendes (Executive Director of Green Centre Canada) for their assistance in developing the competition.

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