March 2011

2011-12 Student Ambassador application now open

The 2011-12 Student Ambassador application is now open!

NCIIA is pleased to announce the launch of the NCIIA Student Ambassador Program for 2011-12. The NCIIA Student Ambassador Program is an exclusive national network of campus leaders, resources, and events organized to stimulate, promote, and support technology entrepreneurship and innovation at NCIIA member institutions.

Read about the Student Ambassador program and apply!


Olympus Innovation Awards winners announced at Open 2011

On Friday, March 25, during Open 2011, Olympus America and NCIIA recognized three outstanding faculty innovators and educators: the winners of the 2011 Olympus Innovation Awards.

The 2011 winners are:

  • Amy Smith from MIT wins the Olympus Innovation Award ($10,000). More...
  • Dr. Ashok Gadgil from University of California, Berkeley wins the Olympus Lifetime of Educational Innovation Award ($2,500) 
  • Dr. Soumyadipta Acharya from Johns Hopkins University wins the Olympus Emerging Educational Leader Award ($1,000). More...

Please join us in congratulating these three fine faculty, whose work has positively impacted the lives of millions of people around the world, and motivated a new generation of engineers and entrepreneurs.

Pictured left to right: Dr. Ashok Gadgil, the 2011 Olympus Lifetime of Educational Innovation Award winner; Dr. Soumyadipta Acharya, the 2011 Olympus Emerging Educational Leader Award; Dr. Laura Ferguson, Group Manager, Market Strategy and Research, Scientific Equipment Group, Olympus America; Amy Smith, the 2011 Olympus Innovation Award; and Phil Weilerstein, Executive Director, NCIIA.  

For more information, see the press release.

Open 2011 in the media

More than 380 leading faculty and student innovators and entrepreners participated in three days of knowledge sharing and network building. And we highlighted our best teams of the year at Open Minds. Here's the start of the press coverage:


Open Minds 2011 video competition winners announced

The winners in the Open Minds 2011 video competition have been selected! The winners, as selected by public vote and by a judging panel, are:

First equal ($1,000): Sustainable Solar Sanitation System: Georgia Institute of Technology

First equal ($1,000): mobiLIFE, Inc.: Boston University

Third place ($250): Safe Aqua Ducha Halo portable shower: Art Center College of Design


BioSolar Entrepreneurship: Environmental and Social Sustainability as Mutual Bootstrapping

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2010 - $34,663

The West African nation of Ghana is mostly rural, with farming constituting 60% of the workforce. Many of these farms are small, but collectively they produce an enormous amount of biomaterial that is currently burned as waste. As a result, the post-harvest sky is choked with air pollution, uncontrolled wild fires are a constant threat, and the burning biomass contributes to global warming.

This team proposes to convert the post-harvest biomass into usable energy with a solar enhanced pyrolysis device. Pyrolysis, the decomposition of biomass in an oxygen-free environment at elevated temperatures, results in biofuel (gas and oil) and a biochar residue that can be used to enhance soil fertility. The team’s device uses corncobs and concentrated solar energy to convert the waste into energy and biochar with high efficiency and throughput.

The team is partnered with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana. Travel funds to enable two-way student exchanges have been provided by an alumnus to enhance the project.

Velovations in Kenya: Co-Development to Sustainable Local Production

Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech), 2010 - $47,500

Velovations is a group of roughly thirty Michigan Tech undergraduates, graduates, researchers, and faculty performing testing, research, and development for the bicycle industry. In cooperation with Michigan Tech’s Mechanical Engineering Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) program, and led by returned Peace Corps volunteers who have worked in Africa, Velovations has identified a set of bicycle product opportunities particular to East Africa. Over the next three years, Velovations will work with Cycling out of Poverty, the African Bicycle Network and others (including a designer who worked on bikes for the Tour de France and Beijing Olympics) to develop products that meet East African needs and provide opportunities for local production.

Per their market research, the students will specifically look into modifying, accessorizing, or servicing the ubiquitous Tata bike, a brand of bicycle that is omnipresent in Africa. Key issues they identified were large load carrying, a lack of female riders, men being uncomfortable using women’s bikes (conversion kits), and flat tires (the solution is an affordable solid tire).

NCIIA funding will allow for increased product development capabilities, enable travel to East Africa to solidify relationships and find new development and production partners.


  • The team has incorporated as Baisikeli Ugunduzi and moved to sub-Saharan Africa to work on the company directly (May 2012)
  • The team has a new video and a fundraising campaign (October 2012)

Continuation and Sustainability in 2011/2012: The Water, Sanitation, and Health and Hygiene Program (WASH) in Kibera, Kenya

University of Denver, 2010 - $50,000

The lack of hygienic sanitation facilities in slums is a primary cause of 1.5 million child deaths each year. Improved sanitation facilities could reduce diarrheal deaths in young children by more than a third. The Kibera Working Group (KWG), a collaboration of University of Denver faculty and graduate students, Nairobi-based water and sanitation company Ecotact, and the Rotary Clubs of Denver Southeast and Langata-Nairobi is working toward the goal of improved sanitation facilities in the Kibera slum of Nairobi.

KWG’s three main objectives are: 1) assist residents of Kibera in improving health conditions by improving the technological innovations and associated processes in the water and sanitation systems; 2) ascertain best practices in facility development and operations in order to create sustainable facilities; and 3) evaluate and refine its model. KWG is nearly finished developing its proposed model; next the model framework will be tested on existing facilities and a full-time project manager in Kenya will be enrolled to oversee the implementation and operation.

Increasing Smallholder Farmer Income Through Appropriate Technology in the Jatropha Biofuel Value Chain in Guatemala

University of Colorado at Boulder, 2010 - $49,951

Roughly half the population of Guatemala lives on less than two dollars a day, with the majority of rural households making a living through subsistence agriculture. At the same time, the country depends entirely on unsustainable energy sources to power the economy, importing all of its fossil fuel, while most rural households use firewood as their primary cooking fuel.

To address the dual issues of poverty and environmental degradation, this grant supports the development of briquettes made from the locally available Jatropha plant and other agricultural waste to meet rural families’ cooking fuel needs. Fuel briquettes are an environmentally friendly substitute for expensive or unsustainable fuel sources and can be produced at low cost using manual technology and free raw materials—in this case, Jatropha seedstock waste left over from the production of biodiesel. The team is partnering with TechnoServe, an international NGO with an office in Guatemala that has been creating biodiesel from Jatropha since 2006. The team has prior experience in briquette production, having collaborated with an Afghani NGO to launch a successful fuel briquette microenterprise in Kabul (funded by another Sustainable Vision grant).

Engaging Ethiopian Students to Explore the Viability of Cyanobacterial Bio-fertilizer Production to Improve Soil Fertility and Crop Yields in Africa

Colorado State University, 2010 - $45,200

Soil fertility depletion on small farms is a fundamental cause of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in large parts of the developing world. Africa has the lowest fertilizer use rates in the world, leading to declining yields and incomes.

This project explores the use of locally grown cyanobacterial bio-fertilizer to empower people and improve soil fertility, crop yields, and living standards in Ethiopia. Cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) are nearly ubiquitous in nature due to their unique ability to carry out both photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation. Rice farmers in Asia have grown cyanobacteria in their paddies for centuries to improve yield, but to be of value to all farmers, this practice must be adapted so that it can be applied to a variety of crops.

This team proposes a new approach to an ancient concept: growing cyanobacteria in outdoor ponds on-farm and harvesting them for use as a fertilizer that can be applied to any crop. The team will utilize an existing collaboration with Hawassa University in Ethiopia to research the feasibility of scalable bio-fertilizer production in that country, as well as pave the way for large-scale implementation by Ethiopian entrepreneurs.


This team has incorporated Thin Air Nitrogen Solutions LLC and launched a web site (May 2012).

A Multi-Hazard-Resilient Residential Housing Model for Haiti: Rebuilding Communities and Livelihoods through Sustainable Partitioning

University of Notre Dame, 2010 - $42,480

The failure of urban housing was the primary source of fatalities during the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Haitian urban construction practice uses mildly reinforced, undersized concrete columns and masonry infill walls using hand-pressed bricks called Cement Masonry Units (CMUs). Historically, buildings using CMUs perform well under the strong winds common to the Caribbean but experienced catastrophic collapses in the January 2010 earthquake. Even if the size and reinforcement of columns were increased in rebuilding efforts, the continued widespread use of CMUs would still pose a significant seismic risk in future events.

This team, which includes advisors from the Gigot Center/Business School, is developing a new housing paradigm for Haiti with the capacity to withstand the dual threat of hurricanes and earthquakes. The specific focus is on a new sustainable partitioning system for housing called Vèt Miray (Creole for “Green Wall”). Using mechanically processed local agricultural waste products, Vèt Miray has the potential to not only significantly alleviate the risk posed by CMUs, but also address other Haitian societal issues related to waste disposal and economic opportunity by providing a new green industry to the region.