Team used Saint-Gobain contest to launch business effort; meetings for new competition begin tonight

Mark Lorkowski, an electrical engineering and computer science major, had an idea for electronic shelf labels retailers could use to display prices, and he told some classmates at Weatherhead School of Management.

They investigated the market and potential product materials and designs, then decided to bring the idea to last year’s Saint-Gobain Student Design Competition on campus.

The annual competition challenges multidisciplinary teams to put existing materials to a novel use that solves a societal need, with a heavy emphasis on sustainability and energy efficiency. This year’s contest kicks off with the first in a series of informational meetings this evening.

Lorkowski and two of his three Saint-Gobain teammates are now working as LorkTech, fine-tuning their product and talking with retailers about their needs.

The team came up with an electronic tag that’s tougher, greener, longer-lasting and cheaper than the products seen in Asian and European stores. The label is made of an electrophoretic material—similar to the material used in the Kindle—and looks like a flexible refrigerator magnet.

The tag is designed to eliminate the paper waste and time employees spend changing labels and provide shoppers with accurate pricing. Competing products require batteries but theirs doesn’t. A solar cell that’s part of the label provides the spark to change prices.

“Ours truly has zero waste,” Lorkowski said.

The software they’ve designed allows one person at a computer or using a hand-held device to set prices using radio frequency communications. For perishables, the price can be set to automatically drop repeatedly as the expiration date nears, to induce shoppers to buy and reduce losses.

On its company website, LorkTech credits the Saint-Gobain competition for their first launch.

“The competition provided me with an opportunity to glimpse the real business world, what potential investors and clients look for when we present ideas to them for investment money or as a business proposition,” said Sen-Wei Evan Horng, who graduated with a degree in finance last May.

He and the other teammates said the contest drove home the importance of utilizing the different expertise members bring to the table, and that teamwork is more effective than trying to do everything yourself.

“By providing the business side to Mark’s engineering idea, we were able to provide a more complete picture of the innovative product,” said Michael Schmid, who graduated in May with majors in finance and psychology.

The team took second place, which not only provided them with a $5,000 prize but gave them the confidence to try to take the idea farther, they said.

LorkTech has hired several employees, including a member of the winning team from last year’s contest, Scott Dailey, a CIA graduate; Weatherhead School students Samir Salka and Saimah Haque; chemistry major Mike Giammo; and recent Cleveland State University graduate Peter DeCapua.

The competition is open to undergraduate and graduate students from all engineering departments, the physics and chemistry departments and all majors from the Weatherhead School of Management and the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Informational meeting times and locations are as follows:

  • Sept. 8, 5:30 p.m., Nord Hall 310A
  • Sept. 14, 5 p.m., Adelbert Hall – Toepfer Room
  • Sept. 15, 4:30 pm, CIA Industrial Design Studio– Gund room 121

A mixer for all who plan to participate is scheduled for Sept. 22, 5:45 p.m., George S. Dively Building room 202.