University of Arkansas Team Wins $20,000 for Solar Efficiency Invention

Picasolar includes (left to right) Trish Flanagan, Matthew Young, Michael Miller, Seth Shumate, adviser Carol Reeves
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Picasolar includes (left to right) Trish Flanagan, Matthew Young, Michael Miller, Seth Shumate, adviser Carol Reeves

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A team from the University of Arkansas that has developed a patent-pending process to improve the efficiency of solar cells took the grand prize at one of Canada’s premier graduate student business plan competitions.

Picasolar earned first place at the 2013 IBK Capital-Ivey Business Plan Competition, held Jan. 25-26 at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. The team received a cash award of $20,000 and an invitation to the Venture Labs Investment Competition at the University of Texas at Austin in May, which bills itself as the “Super Bowl of business competitions.”

Picasolar’s process, invented by team member Seth Shumate, could improve the efficiency of solar cells by 15 percent and could save manufacturers an estimated $5 million to $10 million annually per production line.

“Picasolar is a fantastic addition to the very impressive group of teams from the University of Arkansas winning international business plan competitions,” said Carol Reeves, associate vice provost for entrepreneurship who advises Picasolar and two other U of A teams that competed at Ivey.

“I almost always forbid my students from using the word ‘revolutionary’ to describe their technology,” Reeves said. “However, Picasolar can honestly make that claim in regard to the impact their technology can have on the solar industry. The judges, some of whom were from Silicon Valley, were blown away by their technology and their presentation.”

The Ivey competition offers students an opportunity to present innovative business plans to potential investors, while providing investors with an advance look at up-and-coming entrepreneurs and new ventures. The U of A was the only university from the United States invited to the final round, which featured nine teams divided into three brackets. The winner of each bracket advanced to final round.

The Picasolar team include Shumate, a doctoral student in the microelectronics-photonics program offered by the College of Engineering and J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences; Trish Flanagan, a student in the concurrent master’s program in business administration and public service offered by the Sam M. Walton College of Business and the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock; Matthew Young, a doctoral student in electrical engineering; and Michael Miller, a master of accountancy student in Walton College.

ParadigMed, another team from the U of A, also advanced to the final round. Stephen Kayode and Tara Mink, both in the managerial MBA program in Walton College, founded ParadigMed, which manufactures a cost-effective device for adult male circumcision in an outpatient setting. It addresses challenges associated with reducing the heterosexual transmission rate of HIV globally, primarily in Africa.

HomeDx, a third U of A team represented by managerial MBA students Calvin Smith, Max Mahler and Will Swearingen, nearly made the final round, Reeves said. HomeDx is working to develop the first over-the-counter influenza test that will be distributed through large retail channels.

All three teams formed in the New Venture Development graduate course taught by Reeves, holder of the Cecil and Gwendolyn Cupp Applied Professorship in Entrepreneurship in the Walton College.

It was the second consecutive year a team from the U of A won the competition. Learning DifferentiatED, which has created a company that improves retention and success rates of adults preparing for the General Education Development test, took the top spot in 2012.


Carol Reeves, associate vice provost for entrepreneurship
Academic Affairs

Chris Branam, research communications writer/editor
University Relations


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