U of A's Picasolar Team Wins MIT Clean Energy Prize, $250,000

Craig Hallstrom (far left), president of NSTAR Electric, congratulates team mentor Douglas Hutchings (left to right); Seth Shumate, Picasolar; and Trish Flanagan, Picasolar. Photo courtesy Michael Fein.
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Craig Hallstrom (far left), president of NSTAR Electric, congratulates team mentor Douglas Hutchings (left to right); Seth Shumate, Picasolar; and Trish Flanagan, Picasolar. Photo courtesy Michael Fein.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Picasolar, a graduate business plan competition team at the University of Arkansas, beat more than a dozen other semifinalists to take the MIT NSTAR Clean Energy Prize this week in Boston. The team won for a business plan built around a patent-pending process developed by one of its members to improve the efficiency of solar cells.

The prize came with a cash award of $150,000. Picasolar won an additional $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy. Cash-wise, it is the university’s biggest win in a graduate business competition since the U of A began fielding teams a decade ago.

“We’ve made some extraordinary contacts in Boston and we are excited about the momentum we are building,” said graduate student Trish Flanagan, president of Picasolar. “We are grateful for the support of Dr. Carol Reeves and other mentors at the University of Arkansas.”

Picasolar has won more than $300,000 this spring in graduate business plan competitions. The team’s technology, a hydrogen selective emitter invented by team member and chief technology officer Seth Shumate, could improve the efficiency of solar cells by 15 percent and could save an average-sized solar panel manufacturer $120 million annually, and and make the panels, and solar energy, more affordable for consumers.

“This win is the culmination of a year of incredibly hard work,” said team mentor Carol Reeves, U of A’s associate vice provost for entrepreneurship. “I cannot say enough about this team or about their technology.  It is amazing that an Arkansas doctoral student developed one of the biggest breakthroughs in solar technology in decades.  It shows what we are capable of accomplishing, and the entire world will benefit.”

Jim Rankin, the university’s vice provost for research and economic development, said, “This is exciting news for the University of Arkansas. Winning this prestigious competition reinforces the reputation of the university as a national educational leader in entrepreneurship. It also shows how graduate students from different disciplines can work cohesively to advance a successful business plan.”

Picasolar includes:

  • Shumate, a doctoral student in the microelectronics-photonics program offered by the College of Engineering and J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
  • 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
  • Michael Miller, a master of accountancy student in Walton College.

Picasolar will compete at the Tri-State Governor's Cup in Las Vegas May 20-22, and a national Department of Energy competition in June.

It’s the third competition victory for Picasolar since the team formed in the New Venture Development graduate course taught by Reeves, who holds the Cecil and Gwendolyn Cupp Applied Professorship in Entrepreneurship in the Walton College.

Picasolar took first place and $20,000 at the 2013 IBK Capital-Ivey Business Plan Competition in January at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. It won the $25,000 graduate-division first place prize in Little Rock in April at the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup collegiate business plan competition.

Under the guidance of Reeves, the university has fielded competitive graduate student teams at state, regional, national, and international business plan competitions since 2002. During the past decade, students have won more than $1.7 million in cash at these competitions. 


Carol Reeves, associate vice provost for entrepreneurship
Academic Affairs
479-575-6220, creeves@uark.edu

Chris Branam, research communications writer/editor
University Relations
479-575-4737, cwbranam@uark.edu


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