CWRU startup to compete for $1 million

CWRU startup CrystalE is aiming to make waves at the upcoming Clean Energy Trust (CET) Challenge, a business pitch competition for $1 million. The contest will take place in April in Chicago and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, among others.

Fourteen startups that are still in their beginning stages as businesses were selected to compete, ranging from anti-spoilage food storage systems to models of electric vehicles. This will be CrystalE’s second year taking part in the competition.

“We’re really excited,” said Andrew Ritosa, a masters student in engineering and management who is in charge of CrystalE’s strategy and leads their group meetings. “We’re really happy that this team got picked again from last year.”

CrystalE produces sensor nodes to be used in building energy management systems, detecting information such as temperature and humidity. A network of these sensors, connected to a central computer, can provide information about the energy efficiency of a building. They also use background vibrational energy for sensing and transmission, meaning that they don’t require batteries or outlets.

In addition to Ritosa, CrystalE includes Jonathan Colon and Swetha Ravi, both earning their master’s degrees in engineering and management, and Xuqian Zheng, a PhD candidate in the Case School of Engineering.

Apart from competing in last year’s CET Challenge, CrystalE also recently placed first in the 2016 Great Lakes Energy Institute Clean Energy Student Competition and will soon be competing in the Allegheny Cleantech University Prize competition at Carnegie Mellon University.

Most of CrystalE’s preparation for the upcoming competition involves addressing and adjusting their strategy from the previous year’s CET Challenge, adapting their presentation to answer directly to what the challenge is looking for. These preparations include making a video of their business plan and developing a commercialization plan to create one unified pitch that will appeal to the judges. They also conducted market research, refined the value proposition and created an elevator pitch, in hopes of improving their presentation.

“Most of our time has been dedicated towards how we are going to answer a lot of these questions that these competitions want to know,” said Ritosa.

Following the CET Challenge, CrystaleE hopes to push their sensor technology out to market, forming relationships with larger companies to achieve that effort. In the long term, members of CrystalE see their options as open, including acquisition by a larger company, licensing their technology to other companies or operating independently. They will decide their path based on what they think will work best to get their product on the market.

“Really, what it’s gonna come down to is, ‘What is gonna get this technology used the most,’” said Ritosa.

CrystalE is also planning on entering other competitions, such as the Rice Business Plan Competition, in the future. According to Ritosa, the students in CrystalE take pride in standing up to other startups, not just as a company, but as a student organization as well.

Ritosa says that business competitions have helped CrystalE, and he feels that more entrepreneurially minded CWRU students should enter CWRU-specific or CWRU-sponsored competitions such as the Great Lakes Energy Institute Clean Energy Student Competition, the Spartan Challenge, and the Saint-Gobain Competition.

“There’s a lot of potential out there for students to take the jump,” says Ritosa. “I think there are a lot of great minds that would add a whole lot of value to startup companies if people knew what these opportunities were.”