Student-Led Startups Share $100,000 in Funding at Annual Competition
A digital tool to help the scientific community reduce a major source of energy waste in labs using hazardous chemicals earned a team of Terps the $30,000 grand prize at the 2023 Pitch Dingman Competition on Tuesday.
Before a crowd of students, judges and faculty and staff, Kevin Tu ECON ’23, Telon Yan ’23 and Oliver D'Esposito '26 presented their startup Sustainabli, whose Sashimi Sash Manager—an installable lab sensor and digital dashboard—reminds scientists to shut the sash to their fume hoods and tracks energy use. The ventilation equipment removes hazardous vapors and gasses generated during experiments, but running them when they’re not in use can cost academic, industrial and government labs across the country over $4 billion every year.
As a UMD sustainability manager, Tu spent months going door-to-door asking scientists to close their sashes, as well as frequently experiencing crashes with existing sash usage spreadsheets. Leveraging Tu’s academic experience in biological sciences and economics, along with Yan and D’Esposito’s mechanical engineering and computer science backgrounds, the team had the perspective and technical know-how to create its product.
The team also won the $1,000 audience choice prize for Tom's Industrious Entrepreneur Award (previously the Tom Savransky Entrepreneurial Spirit Award).
“Our vision is to become the go-to vendor for sustainable lab solutions around the world,” said Tu. “We’re united by a mission to create a culture of sustainability for science, and with our tech, we can ensure that we continue to innovate sustainably.”
The competition, now in its 13th year, is hosted by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and was held at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center. The final round saw 10 student teams from a pool of over 100 student applications and 65 venture applications compete for a share of $100,000 in startup funding.
Photo of the Sustainabli team (featuring Kevin Tu, center) is by Ross Lewin