New University of Maryland lab hosts innovative startups
Award-winning methane-to-energy venture among first users
Trevor Young, a University of Maryland undergrad, is spearheading a new company that aims to provide methane-to-electricity plants to his native Sierra Leone, and perhaps the world.
His recent $25,000 winnings in the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute's $75K Business Plan Competition will help the African native in his mission, but the university now has another tool for him.
The university, through Mtech, launched its latest entrepreneur program this week: the Tech Entrepreneur Research and Prototyping Startup Laboratory, known, appropriately, as TERPS. Young is among the several competition winners who will receive a free year at the 700-square-foot lab, part of the university's Technology Advancement Program incubator in College Park.
Funded primarily through a $35,000 grant from Science Applications International Corp., the lab will offer work space for entrepreneurs to develop prototypes and business plans among their peers, said Dean Chang, director of Mtech's venture education programs and director of the incubator program. SAIC has previously given about $75,000 to programs at Mtech, part of the A. James Clark School of Engineering.
"It's the next logical step in our mission to foster the entrepreneur spirit," Chang said.
The new lab is intended as a bridge between Mtech's intensely supportive VentureAccelerator program and basic business-growing space within the incubator, especially for students and researchers whose work has grown beyond the size of their dorm rooms or small offices, he said. Participants receive mailboxes, company listings, shared conference rooms and access to basic hardware and software development tools.
Chang also hopes to soon be able to purchase a 3-D prototyping printer for the lab, which will produce smaller, resin-based colored renditions for product ideas.
Young, who won first place in the business plan contest's undergraduate division, is excited at having a place to refine his concept.
"It feels good when you believe in a project and other people realize that," he said. His company, Tseia Energy, is still in its incorporating stages. It's named after his daughter, and means sunshine.
His next step is analyzing the palm oil methane waste from his plants; palm fruit is a significant product in Sierra Leone's agricultural market.
Many alternative-fuel efforts focus on ethanol, which competes with food supplies. Young, on the other hand, thinks using methane from processing the same produce not only preserves the food supply but yields nitrogen-enriched fertilizer for the agricultural cycle.
Young, 34, of Upper Marlboro, wants to partner with African farmers to help them find economic and energy stability through the processing plants. Having lost both parents to the country's political upheaval over the years, Young wants to help the people of his homeland.
He said his system could also be applied to rural U.S. communities, providing locally generated electricity. Young estimates each plant could power up to 50 homes.
"This has huge financial potential, and can also leverage agriculture potential," he said.
Young's winnings included the new Warren Citrin Social Impact Award, part of a $250,000 donation over the next five years.
Citrin, a Maryland businessman, has previously been a competition judge. A veteran of the defense industry, Citrin established his Impact Pre-Seed Fund to help businesses seeking to help their communities.
"I can't define it, but I know it when I see it," he said, adding that companies such as Tseia Energy helped him define the type of endeavors he hopes to nurture.
Citrin co-founded technology company Gloto and defense company Solipsys, now Raytheon Solipsys, both in Fulton.
Young and other competition winners plan to move to the new TERPS lab within the next few weeks.