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``Sterwave'' Awarded $10K by Entrepreneurs Club

By Eva Moy
Editor in chief

The eight members of Sterwave, a group that plans to commercialize a new technology for the sterilization of laboratory, medical and food products, earned the top spot and $10,000 in the Fifth Annual MIT $10K Entrepreneurial Competition on May 11.

The team - Jason T. Chen '94, Alberto Haddad G, Owen Hughes '86, Robert W. Lewis G, Khinlei Myint-U G, Peter Y. Nuytkens G, Suzanne C. Oakley G, and Srikar Srinath '94 - beat out 32 other teams for the annual prize, awarded to the group with the most promising plan for a new business, said Joost P. Bonsen '92, the competition's chairman.

"The technology has broad application to both small-scale sterilization of materials at hospitals, such as surgical supplies, and large-scale sterilization of manufactured goods which arrive to the customer sterile, such as syringes, bandages, and petri plates," Hughes said.

Sterwave's microwave-based technology dramatically reduces costs, environmental hazards, and damage of the materials being sterilized, Hughes said. Currently, the most widely used sterilization technologies are steam heat, gamma irradiation, and ethylene oxide, a poisonous gas.

The contest is coordinated by the MIT Entrepreneurs Club and the Sloan New Ventures Association, with the support of donors from inside and outside of the Institute. Team members may be MIT undergraduates, graduate students, or alumni; the winning team had one engineering graduate student, two engineering undergraduates, one post-doctoral fellow in biology, three Sloan MBA students, and one Sloan fellow.

The competition "encourages student-led teams to flesh out what it means to be an entrepreneur," to take an idea and build up a plan for bringing it to market, Bonsen said.

Coordination was difficult

"The hardest part of this $10K contest project was coordinating the efforts of eight very busy people," Hughes said. "I've been told that this has been the largest $10K team to date, and I think it was the most diverse."

The club helped participants form teams through social events, a resume book, and networking. About one-third of the students in this year's competition were undergraduates, though most of those were upperclassmen. In addition to engineering and management majors, students also represented fields in science, architecture, and the humanities.

The competition began in early February, when the 33 teams submitted five-page business proposals, Bosnes said. He added that each summary included a description of the idea, analyses of the potential market and competition, and a brief action plan.

Business plans for ventures which have already received funding are not eligible for the $10K Competition, Bonsen added.

Nine teams were picked as semifinalists in early March, at which point they began to prepare business plans. The plans included an executive summary, quarterly final projections for two years, annual projections up to the fifth year, and a break-even analysis, Bonsen said. Having a working model, as each of the semifinalist teams did this year, was also advantageous, he added.

Six finalists teams were chosen by late April to prepare a short presentation. Following the presentations, the teams were questioned by the contest judges. The final winner was then chosen for the overall quality of the idea and strength of the plan - "a powerful idea with a well-done plan," Bonsen said.

The finalists were: Up & Comers Trading Card Co., manufacturing personalized sports action cards; Senflex, enabling flexible manufacturing and process control through wireless technology; Hyperlearning Inc., computer-aided interactive learning guides for math, science, and engineering; Medialink, developing products to deliver multimedia content over existing infrastructures; and The Labor Market, and on-line employment agency.

Sterwave is currently in the process of incorporating, filing patent applications, and continuing its technology development, Hughes said, adding that they hope to have a full-scale prototype by the end of summer. "I've been delighted by how the project has evolved, and I think it will continue to grow," he said.

Several members of last year's winning team, now Novus Packaging Corporation, have started to take their plan to market. Novus is developing Pillowpak, an inflating packaging product for medical equipment. Other teams have stayed together but moved on to different projects.

"The packaging market is brutal," Novus President Nicholas De Luca '93 said to Bonsen. "You've just got to find a niche and go for it."