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A solar solution

UD’s Abhishek Iyer and team work toward a better solar panel system

University of Delaware electrical engineering graduate student Abhishek Iyer and his team are all working toward a low-cost, high-efficiency solar cell that can be processed in a lab environment.

From the very beginning they were looking to find a commercial viability for the research they were doing. Their goal: scale it from their research and find a place in the current market.

To get there, the team has enrolled in a number of different programs and competitions including the UD Hen Hatch pitch competition, National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Sites, NSF I-Corps Teams, and NSF Small Business Innovation Research.

Iyer says the team “really wants to license the technology to a manufacturer or build their own company. It’s ambitious but we can do it.”

The team consists of partners James Hack, an engineering doctoral student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Akirt Sridharan a graduate student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Robert Opila, professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; and Keith Modzeleweski, VentureOn support lead and adjunct professor at the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship.

Their start up began as an improvement to the aesthetic of solar panels. Rather than cover the roof of a building with unattractive traditional panels, Iyer and team wanted to come up with a more attractive alternative. Through their research they were able to create cost efficient solar panel tiles that look akin to normal roof tiles.

“This cell doesn’t require huge instruments or tools to create. What we’ve done is simply made it cheaper to produce because of that and more attractive to purchase. It’s a much-needed improvement for sure,” Iyer says.

Their journey started with UD’s Hen Hatch pitch competition. Hen Hatch is the University’s premier startup funding competition. It provides entrepreneurial students, alumni, faculty, and staff with the opportunity to make connections and collect feedback on their ideas while competing for startup cash and prizes totaling $100,000. They didn’t win but they gained a great deal of feedback on their design.

Then they were accepted into a six-week specialized training program known as NSF I-Corps Sites, under the guidance of Dan Freeman and Vincent DiFelice. It was there they focused on honing the programs marketability. After completing the program, they moved on to the eight-week extended program, NSF I-Corps Teams. The $50,000 they received as acceptance went toward a great deal of customer interviewing and market research.

Iyer explained that the team “has a far better understanding of the direction they want to take after the I-Corps Sites and Teams programs.

In the future, they hope to find themselves involved in the next stage of the NSF program, NSF SBIR. It is there they hope to find the final guidance necessary to launch their incredible product into the public eye.

“In the end,” Iyer says, “it all comes down to teamwork and advisement. I can’t thank my teammates and advisors enough for the opportunities they’ve allowed.”

About the Horn Program

The University of Delaware Horn Program in Entrepreneurship ignites imaginations and empowers world changers through entrepreneurial education. Its offerings emphasize experiential learning, evidence-based entrepreneurship and active engagement with entrepreneurs, business leaders and members of the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Participation in Horn Program courses and co-curricular activities provides students with the knowledge, skills, connections and access to resources needed to create, deliver and capture value from new ideas and thrive in a rapidly changing world.

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