Ohio Wesleyan senior Kenny Streb practices delivering his product pitch for the national EnergyTech University Prize competition. OWU’s SolarCon team is one of 180 teams from 113 colleges and universities across the country selected for the first-time competition. (Photo courtesy of Kenny Streb)

Bright Idea

Ohio Wesleyan Students Pitch Solar Energy Concept as Part of National Competition

By Cole Hatcher

Katelyn Bischoff ’22
Chloe Merritt ’22
Kenny Streb ’22

DELAWARE, Ohio – A group of Ohio Wesleyan University students is among 180 college teams chosen nationally to compete in the first-ever EnergyTech University Prize competition. More than $250,000 is at stake in the contest sponsored by the Office of Technology Transitions, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy.

The OWU students – including seniors Katelyn Bischoff, Chloe Merritt, and Kenny Streb – will participate Feb. 24 in the first phase of the competition, virtually pitching their product to create more efficient solar energy as part of the Great Lakes regional contest. Teams selected to advance from the 11 regional contests will compete March 24 in the national final, also scheduled to be held virtually this year.

‘Amazing Things at OWU’

“I think it proves that Ohio Wesleyan can compete with the bigger schools,” said Bischoff, a Data Analytics and Business Administration double-major and Economics minor from Marysville, Ohio. “We’re doing some amazing things at OWU with entrepreneurship. I think it also proves that what we learn in the classroom can be applied.”

Of the 113 schools participating in the national EnergyTech UP competition, only three are from Ohio: Ohio Wesleyan University, Case Western Reserve University, and The Ohio State University.

Cierra Joiner ’22

The four students who make up OWU’s “SolarCon” team met fall semester during their Business 425 Entrepreneurship class, said Streb of Willowick, Ohio, who initially learned of the EnergyTech UP competition from instructor Steve Flaherty. (If the team advances to the final, senior Cierra Joiner will join the group to help with additional research and the final presentation.)

Immersed in Entrepreneurship

“The best thing about being part of this competition is the ability to be fully immersed in the entrepreneurship world,” said Streb, an Environmental Studies and Geography double-major and Business Administration minor. “Not only are we developing skills that will be beneficial in life, but we are also gaining experience, especially when we want to develop our own companies.”

Streb already is planning to launch his own renewable energy company after he gains additional experience working in the field. “We selected solar energy because that is currently the industry that I plan to work in,” he said.

“The technology that we will be working with is currently patented by a group of Navy engineers who work within the Department of Defense (DOD),” he said. “The product itself is different from traditional photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. It uses concentrator cells and reflective devices to direct sunlight at a single wafer precursor.”

More Effective Solar Energy

“Using the solar concentration technique, we are able to consume not just more electrical energy but thermal energy as well,” Streb said. “Our product will consume more than 20% electrical energy as opposed to the typical 15 to 20% that PV cells capture. Because our product uses a water system to cool down the concentration cells, the heated water can then be captured and stored as thermal energy, which, in turn, creates a higher overall efficiency.”

The team has been able to draw from its Ohio Wesleyan educational experience and faculty expertise to prepare for the competition, he said.

Streb has taken the lead “on gathering information on how the technology functions and the impact it will have after commercialization.” In addition, he said, “Katie has focused on understanding the economic feasibility of the technology and how we can change the industry. Chloe has focused on the market size to show how we, as a company, can expand the solar energy market as a whole.”

‘A Lot of Persistence’

In addition to Flaherty, the team has been meeting regularly with Megan Ellis, executive director of The Delaware Entrepreneurial Center at OWU. “They were there to oversee the material and listen to our pitches to make sure we are prepared for the regional competition. We have also received help from Dr. Nathan Rowley (associate professor of Environment and Sustainability), who is very knowledgeable about solar energy,” Streb said.

“The biggest lesson our group has learned while developing the company is that there are always going to be challenges,” he said. “But, reaching out for help to people with knowledge in areas we may lack is the key to building a successful company. It takes a strong team and a lot of persistence to achieve the end goal.”

Capturing Other Opportunities

In addition to collaborating for the EnergyTech UP competition, Streb, Joiner, and Merritt worked together during fall semester to create “Closet Capture,” a product concept that won their in-class Venture Pitch Competition and earned them $750 to support its continued development.

Closet Capture is a full-length mirror loaded with artificial intelligence and augmented reality software intended to help people utilize their wardrobes quickly and confidently.

Joiner is a Business Marketing major from Centerburg, Ohio, and Merritt is a Business Marketing major from Powell, Ohio.

Learn more about the EnergyTech University Prize competition at energy.gov/technologytransitions/energytech-university-prize.

Learn more about OWU’s Department of Economics and Business at owu.edu/economics and more about the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center at Ohio Wesleyan University at owu.edu/decowu.

Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers more than 70 undergraduate majors and competes in 24 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Through its signature program, The OWU Connection, Ohio Wesleyan teaches students to integrate knowledge across disciplines, build a diverse and global perspective, and apply knowledge in real-world settings. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives” and included on the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “Best Colleges” lists. Connect with OWU expert interview sources at owu.edu/experts or learn more at owu.edu.