First place team and judges from left: Dave Stresing (Saint-Gobain), Tao Liu (MS Mechanical Engineering), Doug Heneghan (Saint-Gobain), Wenjun Zou (MSM, Finance), Bowen Wang (MS, Systems and Control Engineering) and Michael Francis (Saint-Gobain). Not pictured: Liang Yue (PhD, Materials Science and Engineering)  Photo by Kevin Kopanski Photography

Answenergy took first place for its portable motion energy harvester. The team is pictured above with competition judges. From left: Dave Stresing (Saint-Gobain), Tao Liu (MS, Mechanical Engineering), Doug Heneghan (Saint-Gobain), Wenjun Zou (MSM, Finance), Bowen Wang (MS, Systems and Control Engineering) and Michael Francis (Saint-Gobain). Not pictured: Liang Yue (PhD, Materials Science and Engineering)
Photo by Kevin Kopanski Photography.

Answenergy, first place winner of the sixth annual Saint Gobain Student Design Competition held on April 1, started off the group presentations with a thoughtful question: “Take out your phones. Are you happy with your battery?”

In response, the audience took out their phones, looked at their battery charge, and frowned.

“If you are unhappy with your battery charge, raise your hand,” Bowen Weng, one of the members of the team and Case Western Reserve University student, said. The majority of the audience raised their hands. Weng smiled at the audience’s response and launched into his team’s product: a portable motion energy harvester.

It became very clear from the beginning that this was a competition for products with the best solutions for real-life problems. Every year, the Saint-Gobain Student Design Competition gives engineering, business and design students the opportunity to innovate, make a prototype of their product, and immerse themselves in the business portion of the process. Each team is given a Saint-Gobain or faculty mentor and works together all year to keep building on their innovation until the finals. The first-place winner receives $9,000—to do anything with.

The competition has been the platform for startup companies such as SensID, a business co-founded by Alexis Schilf, a biomedical engineering student; Jake Schwarz, a computer science and economics student; and Marc Bouchet, an aerospace and materials science engineer student with a background in front-end marketing. SensID is a product meant to give nurses training in handling tools before entering the operating room.

What started as a question posed to SensID during the Case Western Reserve’s Rising Engineers and Technological Entrepreneurs program (CREATE) became the basis for their innovation. In January, the group filed a utility patent. They also placed second at the Saint-Gobain competition.

“I’ve learned a lot of things through this project that I wouldn’t have learned from my classes,” Schilf said about her experience. “Looking back a year ago there’s so many things I’ve learned about business and product development that are really applicable. It’s been really cool.”

“For us, regardless of where we go from here, we already learned so much from getting to do this and working with the university. It’s been fantastic,” Schwarz added.

Answenergy received first place, SensID received second, and BananaMi, a team that created a product to help consumers shop quicker and easier at a grocery store, received third.