WSU E2 Challenge winner plans launch of his business in the alternative energy fieldNovember 5, 2009
DETROIT- Six months ago, WSU mathematics graduate student and Ann Arbor, Mich., resident David Collins had a great business idea, but little knowledge of how to make it a reality.
Now Collins, who is also earning a graduate certificate in alternative energy technology at WSU, is well on his way to launching a business that will make heating water with solar power a more viable, efficient alternative.
Collins' company, Qisol, will provide meters for monitoring the performance of solar hot water heaters. He was one of six student companies chosen for Wayne State University's E2 Challenge, housed at TechTown. With the help of funding from the Michigan Initiative for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the program supports Wayne State students in exploring the potential of their own start‐up company and preparing for outside investment. The student groups that won the challenge received financial support and a summer-long mentoring program to develop their business idea.
The idea for Qisol began a few years back when Collins became curious about the amount of energy his own solar hot water heater produced. He began surveying experts in the industry and learned that system monitors were not readily available. Because solar water heater failure is fairly common, the demand for the technology was high. "I would talk to installers, distributers, even state representatives interested in subsidizing solar water heaters and was told repeatedly that if I had a product to sell, they would buy it," Collins said.
Collins worked to move his idea forward, but encountered many obstacles because of lack of support, guidance and feedback. He entered the E2 Challenge hoping for outside expertise and was chosen for the program because of the high potential of his business venture.
The program provided Collins valuable training in marketing, educated him on corporate structure, and provided the backing that made conversations with industry leaders possible. "The biggest benefit of the E2 Challenge was being able to say I got a grant to develop my business," Collins said. "Once I could say somebody else believes in me, somebody is supporting me to do this, people wanted to listen. It made me more than just some guy with an idea."
Collins now has a prototype of his product, three electrical engineers and two Web designers working for him, and submitted an application for a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the Department of Energy in September. He plans to launch his business in early 2010.
"A great idea should never be dismissed or put on hold simply because young entrepreneurs don't know everything about developing a business," said Eric Stief, director of Venture Development and the E2Challenge program at WSU. "The E2 Challenge gave us the chance to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit on campus while providing the tools and experience students need to pursue promising new undertakings. We hope the skills they take away from this program serve as a foundation for a career of confidently pushing forward innovative ideas and new ventures that will enrich the job market and diversify the economy of Detroit and Michigan."
Wayne State University is one of the nation's pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information on research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.