Energetic Start-Up

Entrepreneurship competition picks a winner

Renewed purpose: yesterday’s water tower,
tomorrow’s generator.

HyTower Energy Storage, an idea for a company that would make electrical generators out of abandoned water towers, won the eleventh annual Duke Start-up Challenge this spring. Created by graduate students Will Fadrhonc, Tripp Hyde, and Matt Kaufmann—enrolled in the Nicholas School of the Environment, the Pratt School of Engineering, and the Fuqua School of Business, respectively—HyTower beat out a record 110 other competitors and won the $50,000 grand prize, which will be used as seed money for the business.

The contest has three parts. In November, teams made “elevator pitches,” or short descriptions of their companies’ virtues, in the first round of the competition. In February, teams competed in a second round of executive pitches, after which the field was narrowed to seven for a final round.

Judges for this year’s final round included several alumni: Melissa Bernstein ’87, cofounder and co-owner of toy company Melissa & Doug (and the subject of a mini-profile in the March-April 2011 Duke Magazine); Geoff Kanter ’89, managing director of MK Media Ventures; and Tom McMurray B.S.M.E. ’76, M.S. ’78, Ph.D. ’80, chair and president of Marine Ventures Foundation. The final event’s keynote speaker was J.B. Pritzker ’87, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist and leader of the Pritzker Group.

A $10,000 runner-up prize was given to 70Sesame, a team that developed a group-messaging system for the Chinese market.

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