By University of Wyoming Institutional Communications

May 10, 2019

University of Wyoming

Vahideh Mirchi and a colleague entered the John P. Ellbogen $50K Entrepreneurship Competition at the University of Wyoming with plenty of confidence.

Their confidence was not misplaced. The team’s business project beat out four other competitors on its way to a $25,000 award.

The entrepreneurship competition is sponsored by the UW College of Business and supported by the John P. Ellbogen Foundation. The competition awards cash prizes to outstanding teams of student entrepreneurs who submit their business plans for new ventures that show significant business potential.

Known as the UW $10K Competition until 2011, the John P. Ellbogen $50K Entrepreneurship Competition encourages students to act on their talents, ideas and energy to produce tomorrow’s leading businesses.

Two other UW student-led teams also placed in the recent competition.

“I was so excited to participate in the largest student entrepreneur competition in the state,” Mirchi says. “We were so confident on the potential of our business concept due to our extensive experiences in the oil and gas energy sector.”

Mirchi, a UW doctoral student in petroleum engineering from Iran, and her colleague developed SciTech Energy LLC. Their business project is to formulate highly efficient biofriendly surfactants for application in enhanced oil recovery. The idea for the business came from Mirchi’s Ph.D. studies.

“During my Ph.D., I worked with many chemicals with different formulations that are used for enhanced oil recovery application,” Mirchi says. “I noticed that discharging the residuals of many petroleum-based chemicals affects the ecosystem through their toxicity to organisms. Therefore, innovation to solve this problem was my motivation to use substances containing agricultural materials that can be deployed in reservoirs to recover more oil without damaging the environment.”

Though they knew they could, the team did not enter the competition with an expectation of winning it, Mirchi says.

“Winning was not the purpose of our group. Instead, we were so delighted to have the opportunity to educate ourselves during the workshops and classes held before the competition,” Mirchi says. “The classes provided a very strong platform for us as a startup company to learn more about all the business aspects of our idea. Mentorship from Professor Corey Billington significantly changed our perspective about marketing strategies and the way we need to look at the market.”

Now that they have won and have received money to expand on their startup business, the team hopes to have a “major positive impact on enhancing the oil production for future needs of the world’s energy, while resulting in far less damage to the environment,” Mirchi says.

Since the team received its education and experiences in the field in Wyoming, the members have made it their duty to return to the state with their business in order to create more jobs in the Cowboy State. Additionally, Mirchi says the support of local and state government will help their business contribute successfully to Wyoming’s economy.

Two other business plans also received awards during the competition, listed by business name and team members:

-- Second place: Autosense Vehicle Occupancy Detection System (VODS) received $15,000. Team members are Kyler Lunberg, majoring in electrical engineering, from Laramie; Dalton Hass, majoring in computer engineering, from Cheyenne; and Braxton Cooper, majoring in electrical engineering, from Sheridan. The Autosense VODS is a device that uses a variety of sensors to monitor the environment of a vehicle and help prevent human and animal deaths.

-- Third place: Torch Creamery received $10,000. TeaLayna Hill, majoring in social work with a minor in disability studies, from Belle Fourche, S.D., and her sister, Tesa Halter. Torch Creamery will provide quality ice cream creations through advocacy and employment for people with disabilities. The company received an additional $2,500 as the Bill Daniels Business Ethics Award winner.

The John P. Ellbogen $50K Entrepreneurship Competition occurs during UW’s Entrepreneurship Summit sponsored by the College of Business, the Wyoming Business Council, the College of Engineering and Applied Science, Bank of the West, Union Wireless, the city of Laramie, American National Bank and UniWyo Federal Credit Union.


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