As a varsity swimmer, Felipe Gomez del Campo V is used to being in competitive waters. But today, he’s swimming with sharks—as in Mark Cuban, Daymond John and Barbara Corcoran of ABC’s Shark Tank. If that’s not pressure enough, he’s doing it in front of one of the most powerful people on the planet: President Barack Obama.
Gomez del Campo, founder of FCG Plasma, is one of five people who Obama recognized at a White House event today at 2 p.m. to highlight the importance of investing in women and young entrepreneurs. Gomez del Campo’s application was selected from among the many business startups that had been assisted by a U.S. government initiative.
During the one-hour panel, which was livestreamed at whitehouse.gov/live, Gomez del Campo and four other young entrepreneurs discussed their startups and the impact U.S. government-led initiatives have had on them. Then, the “sharks” and other successful startup founders—Tony Elumelu of The Tony Elumelu Foundation, Antonio Gracias of Valor Equity Partners and Julie Hanna of Kiva—conducted a five-minute question session with each entrepreneur.
“Luckily, I’m a good swimmer,” said the junior mechanical and aerospace engineering major—and admitted Shark Tank fan.
Gomez del Campo already has plenty of practice presenting his product—and earning financial support. His work began as a high school science fair project; since, he’s turned his idea into a company with two patents (the latest just filed Friday) and has conducted research with NASA.
Gomez del Campo founded FGC Plasma Solutions in 2013 to bring to market a device that shoots a precise amount of plasma into jet engine fuel. That plasma injection blows the fuel apart into its component molecules, allowing the engine to burn it more efficiently.
The product can improve the safety and efficiency of jet engines, as well as lead to a 10 percent decrease in fuel consumption. His work could result in significant savings and reduce harmful gas emissions for both jet engines on airliners and industrial gas turbines used to generate power.
Gomez del Campo has spent the last two years taking his patent-pending product on the road—meeting with engine manufacturers and combustion research scientists at NASA to pitch the project, as well as making the rounds in local and national business competitions.
He earned the top prize in the university’s Spartan Challenge last year, and took home $100,000 in two separate awards from the U.S. Department of Energy and Boeing at this year’s Clean Energy Challenge, sponsored by the Clean Energy Trust in Chicago. He also earned $20,000 from the Shaker LaunchHouse business accelerator.
Gomez del Campo is quick to note that he likely wouldn’t have had this life-changing opportunity were it not for the persistence of Bob Sopko, director of the university’s Blackstone Launchpad program. When classes and other obligations filled Gomez del Campo’s schedule, Sopko kept on him, regularly reminding him to enter the White House competition. With just minutes to spare, Gomez del Campo submitted his entry. (A Department of Energy representative who worked with him on the Clean Energy Challenge also nominated him.)
Blackstone Launchpad has played a critical role in Gomez del Campo’s success so far. In addition, he’s received assistance from the Great Lakes Energy Institute, think[ box ] and the Intellectual Property Venture Clinic at the law school’s Spangenberg Center for Law, Technology and the Arts (Blackstone Launchpad, think[ box ] and the IP clinic all receive funding from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation).
This support has not only shaped Gomez del Campo’s present project—it’s also what’s driving his plans for the future.
A native of Mexico City, Gomez del Campo moved to the Miami area at the age of 6. Now, after becoming a U.S. citizen just last year, he hopes to set up an “entrepreneurship ecosystem” in Mexico, similar to the one he’s had at Case Western Reserve.
“I always wonder what it would be like if I wasn’t at Case [Western Reserve] and in the U.S., and if I didn’t have the support and resources that I do here,” he said. “I want to make sure people in other countries, like Mexico, have the support they need to have success.”
This marks the second time in fewer than 12 months that the White House has officially recognized Case Western Reserve; last June, Case School of Engineering Dean Jeffrey L. Duerk traveled to the White House for the inaugural Maker Faire to recognize the university’s efforts in spurring a manufacturing revolution.