PMBRC/Department of Science hosts first Annual STEM Entrepreneurial Showdown (21/11/2022)

The competition saw science and postgraduate students compete to develop an innovative solution to address rising energy costs

The Ocular Therapeutics Research Group (OTRG), part of the Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biology Research Centre (PMBRC) in SETU, recently hosted the first ever STEM Entrepreneurial Showdown competition, sponsored by Growth Hub SETU, in partnership with ArcLabs. This was a three-week interactive, in-person competition, in which second, third-, and fourth-year science students, along with postgraduate students, competed to come up with an innovative and creative solution to tackle the real-world problem of rising energy costs.

“It was a chance to really see STEM students put themselves out there in a way that had not been done before. In this ever-connected world, it is more important now than ever that students from any discipline see themselves as solution-makers. This was an opportunity to break them out of the traditional barriers and think about science as a tool toward something bigger than themselves,” said Tess Ames, lead organiser and Project Manager in the OTRG.

Integrating Entrepreneurship into Education

The event was co-organised by Dr. Laurence Fitzhenry, Principal Investigator in the OTRG/PMBRC, and Tom Hennessy, ArcLabs Centre Manager, who also played key roles in mentoring the students throughout the competition and providing critical lectures throughout the project. Additional mentors included Dr. Eugene Crehan, Director of Programmes in the Centre for Enterprise Development and Regional Economy (CEDRE), and lead of the New Frontiers Programme, Sarah Jane Cleary, a local entrepreneur with 18 years’ experience building businesses in the Waterford area, and Dr. Orlaith Ryan, co-founder of SHORLA Oncology.

“What we are aiming for, is that students in STEM integrate ideas of entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, into their understanding of their education and their futures,” stated Dr. Fitzhenry. “We hope to build on this pilot programme, building out further opportunities for our students in STEM.”

The Growth Hub

The Growth Hub Bursary funded the project, ensuring that there was a systematic and educational component to the competition that drove students through understanding entrepreneurship from a base level.

Housed in the School of Business and led by Dr. Margaret Tynan, Growth Hub aims to motivate, support, and develop student entrepreneurial potential. Growth Hub facilitates a range of entrepreneurial activities such as student mentoring, guest speaker talks, and interactive workshops while also supporting entrepreneurial projects through a range of entrepreneurship education bursaries. Growth Hub is a Human Capital Initiative (HCI), pillar 3-funded collaborative project between TU Dublin and SETU Waterford, which commenced in 2021 with funding for 4 years.

Winning Concept

The final showdown, in which the teams presented their ideas to a panel of judges, was hosted on 21 November in the Growth Hub Room. Judges were Dr. Niall O’Reilly, Centre Manager of the PMBRC, Dr. Cormac Johnston of Kinetic Labs, Jacqui Gaule of the Local Enterprise Office, and Dr. Margaret Tynan of the Growth Hub.

The winning team consisted of Butsabarat Klahan (PhD Student), Aziel Zafar (Second Year), and Dileep Kumar (PhD Student), each walking away with a €500 award. Their presentation included a 3-D printed mock-up of the solar panels they believe can provide individual households with enough energy to combat rising costs, while also selling extra energy back to the grid, reducing the burden on the overall populace even further.

Lateral Thinking

“Overall, what we witnessed is that students across a range of disciplines are incredibly creative and demonstrated a keen ingenuity in an area completely outside their field of study. I am really thrilled to see the success of this event and can’t wait to see where future relationships with industrial partners and Growth Hub SETU allow us to go in the future,” remarked Tess.

Dr. Orla O’ Donovan, Head of Department of Science, SETU Waterford, congratulated the winning team and all the participants in this initiative. She commended the organising team for raising the science students’ awareness of entrepreneurship and lateral thinking with the emphasis on application to real life problems.