One of two biomimicry designs to place in the top four, Electerro’s prototype harvests solar energy with a more natural aesthetic
Electerro, a solar and wind generator built to resemble a birch tree, won top honors at the Invent Oregon Collegiate Challenge on Friday, taking home a $10,000 prize for a prototype that promises to deliver power without the impact of utility-scale electricity generation.
Spearheaded by Oregon Institute of Technology students Hannah Wolf, a renewable energy engineer, and Mario Segura, a mechanical engineer, Electerro’s photovoltaic leaves—designed after those of a birch or magnolia—and vertical-axis wind turbine generate power without the chemical toxicity or impact to migratory birds caused by their large-scale counterparts.
Invent Oregon, celebrating its fifth year, challenged these student entrepreneurs to develop solutions and prototypes that address the economic challenges of the Pacific Northwest. This year’s finals brought together prominent leaders Lisa Gelobter, founder and CEO of tEQuitable, and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.
“To me, innovation is particularly important for a state like Oregon that is 3,000 miles away from so much of the power centers, at least traditional power centers, in our country,” said Senator Wyden. “One of the best ways for us to market our state is to consistently produce innovations that will take the whole country’s interest.”
Electerro’s was not the only biomimicry design to place at Invent Oregon. Claiming second, Portland State University architect Montserrat Fonseca won a $7,500 prize for Living Education Center, a building designed to resemble a caterpillar.
Placing third and fourth were Alpha Prosthetics, a George Fox University team that individualized prosthetics to bring their wearers the highest functionality, and BioMass Gas, a biomass electrical generator fueled by agricultural and forestry waste.
In addition to the winners, a prize was awarded for Best Community College to Exo Hand, a prosthetic hand to help industrial workers with a stronger grip, and Visionary Award to rePLA, a biodegradable plastic for 3D printing applications.
Splitting the vote for People’s Choice Award were the finals winners Electerro and Living Education Center. They will split an additional $1,500 prize.
These student innovators built their prototypes and pitches over the course of Invent Oregon’s three-month program in entrepreneurship. Winners were selected by an expert panel from a field of 19 teams representing higher education across Oregon.
“The last 18 months have shown us that we need to invest in the next generation of inventors and entrepreneurs,” said Juan Barraza, Director of Student Innovation. “With the prototypes they brought to Invent Oregon in 2021, our student innovators showed that they were not only up to the challenge, but that the entrepreneurial ecosystem is strong enough to lead Oregon toward a better economic future regardless of the obstacles. The future in Oregon is bright.”
Invent Oregon 2020 was brought by presenting sponsors including the Lemelson Foundation, Business Oregon, The Oregon Community Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation, Stoel Rives, Horan MediaTech, Wells Fargo and Portland State University.