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Rensselaer Team DripDrop Takes Second Place at Walmart Business Plan Competition

  Senior Director, Jim Stanway, Energy Team, Walmart US presents Davis and Pankowsky with their $5000 check.
Photo Credit: Walmart US

Nathan Pankowsky '13 (Mechanical Engineering) and James Davis '12 (Mechanical Engineering), took second place and $5000 in the 2012 Walmart Better Living Business Plan National Competition. Their business idea, DripDrop, is an in-water bacteria detection system, geared toward water treatment and water reuse plants. Pankowsky and Davis developed this ten-minute (or less) process to test water for biologic and chemical toxins for use on large farms with animal waste in the water, etc. as well as many other fields of use.

Team DripDrop's coach, Brent Solina, CEO of MicrOrganics, had good things to say after the competition, "Our boys did well for themselves. The presentation went well, and it was clear to me when they were watching other teams and talking to them that there are a lot of different gears turning that were not previously. The team's demeanor has changed to a more business-centric perspective." He noted that the team made good contacts and learned about the industry and the key players they should be in communication with to market their product. He also had the following to say about the positive impact student participation in competitions, such as this, has on Rensselaer and the Lally School, "We were told point blank that our participation in this competition has changed the way people view the school. "Brent won the regional competition two years ago, this year an RPI team has placed at the national level for the first time…so we are beginning to turn heads out there in the marketplace," said Dr. Gina O'Connor, Director, Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship.

Rensselaer and the Lally School are hastily moving forward on the entrepreneurship scene. These two students have benefited immensely from extensive coaching through the RPI Business Plan Competition process; Dick Frederick, Director of Rensselaer's Emerging Ventures Ecosystem (EVE); alumni Brent Solina '11, who was part of last year's first place team in the New York State Business Plan Competition; and the staff of the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship - Entrepreneur in Residence, Remy Arteaga; Gina O'Connor; and Kelly Reardon, Senior Program Administrator.

Drip Drop is a good example of the potential of the E*ship pipeline at Rensselaer. “James and Nathan stated their entrepreneurial journey as members of the Exemplar Program (in fact, James was the first student to earn a 100 points and receive a Certificate; Nathan followed shortly thereafter). They rarely missed a workshop in 2.5 years,” noted Rob Chernow, Vice Provost for E*ntrepreneurship.  He recalls working with James and Nathan after they first submitted their idea to one of the contests offered through E*ship at Rensselaer, "They didn't win, but they steadily improved to the point where they eventually were the winners of the Class of ’51 competition." James and Nathan then took advantage of the coaching and resources available through the Severino Center and EVE to make the transition to the next level of competition and the results speak for themselves.  James and Nathan are also one of ten finalists in the upcoming Elevator Pitch competition at Rensselaer.

  Photo Credit: Walmart US

James provided this reflection on their experience in the competition:

When we entered the b-plan competition here at RPI, we had no idea we were stepping into a fly trap. We were quickly introduced to Remy, who directed us to better understand our market. Then we were asked why we hadn't entered the NY State and Walmart competitions, and following Remy's advice, we entered both. When he became busy, we quickly met Brent Solina and Richard Frederick (Dick), and began working on our presentation. After the Walmart Regional Competition, we asked Dick if he would join our advisory board. He helped us improve our presentation, and, after realizing our financials were a mess, he showed us how to write them.

The competition itself was very enjoyable. We went, met a lot of awesome people, and learned about more research in the field of water analysis, but also provided contacts to fellow contestants with faculty at RPI. We spent a lot of time with Marty, our 'coach' [assigned by the competition]. He made sure we were where we needed to be. We also got the chance to sit down with people from all different parts of Walmart, as well as the head of Unilever, Deloite, and a number of other well connected people. Everyone was nice, and we spent a lot of time hanging out with our fellow contestants, sharing information and having fun. Finally, we were happy to hear we'd been awarded third place, and both Nathan and I were offered jobs in Walmart energy - and we won $5,000.

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