Student-run business wins EPA energy-optimization contract

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On March 1, 2010

A company founded and run by Missouri University of Science and Technology students recently received its first federal contract – and hopes to parlay that funding into technology that will help homeowners better manage their household energy use.

The company, IDC (Interdisciplinary Design Collaborative LLC), received a $67,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The EPA is one of 11 federal agencies to participate in the SBIR program, which is administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

IDC was founded in September 2008 by Michael A. Orlando, a St. Louis native and recent Missouri S&T graduate who is now pursuing his master’s degree in engineering management at S&T. He and two other S&T graduate students – Colby Hall (an MBA student) and R.J. Miller (an engineering management major) – form the company’s executive board.

Through this grant, the student-run company will investigate ways to monitor and optimize home energy usage in hopes of eventually developing technology that homeowners could use to cut energy costs. As a start with this effort, IDC has worked with members of Missouri S&T’s Solar House Team to collect data on energy use in S&T’s “Solar Village,” a small neighborhood of student-built solar homes located near campus. Students live in the Solar Village, supplementing their energy costs via the solar power generated by their homes.

During the six-month life of the grant, IDC will explore the feasibility of an “adaptive energy-management system.” Such a system would run algorithms that suggest ways for homeowners to save energy or execute the energy savings directly.

“A computer will automatically collect and analyze data to determine and locate energy losses and wasted energy in a building,” says Orlando. “These optimization algorithms will learn users’ habits and use historical data to instantaneously analyze building energy needs to reduce energy consumption. By using this information, a home can be managed and controlled more efficiently by manual management (suggesting) and automatic (executing) management.”

If their initial research proves successful, Orlando and his IDC colleagues believe they could be considered for a Phase 2 SBIR award – a two-year, $225,000 endeavor – and develop a marketable technology “within the next couple of years.”

IDC’s SBIR grant is believed to be the first ever awarded to undergraduate students, according to Barry White, director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center at Missouri S&T.

“I honestly believe this is the first ever award of an SBIR to undergraduate students, simply because it’s so rare for a technology oriented student business to form, much less know how to apply for these highly competitive grants,” White says.

IDC’s business model relies on the technological talents of students at Missouri S&T who are looking for real-world business experience while still attending school, Orlando says. Since the company’s founding in 2008, IDC has since launched a video production operation, developed a couple of mobile applications for Apple’s iPhone (the St. Pat’s “Daze” Countdown and barcodescan), and won multiple government grants for research and development in a variety of sectors. IDC also recently won the Missouri Small Business & Technological Development Center’s Rising Stars of Entrepreneurship Award.

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On March 1, 2010. Posted in News, Top Headlines