drawing of lightbulbs on blackboard with Block M

Annual business venture competition highlights ideas that could change the world

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (03/09/2018) — Every year, the University of Minnesota’s business venture competition, called the Acara Challenge, shines a spotlight on University students with ideas that could change the world. This year’s winners are no exception.

Aelios Technology, a team comprised of University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering (CSE) students, took the top prize in the graduate division.

CSE Ph.D students Shreyas Bhaban (electrical engineering), Saurav Talukdar (mechanical engineering), and Sourav Patel (electrical engineering), as well as Carlson School of Management MBA student Atul Fotedar, developed a device that will mitigate the effects of power scarcity in the healthcare sector of developing economies. 

Called “Intelligent Plug for Devices,” or iPlugD (pronounced i-plugged), the device is intended to help hospitals extend the duration of their services from power backup supplies by redirecting at least 30 percent power from the non-critical devices to more critical ones.

Students from Aelios Technology also are finalists in the 2018 National Cleantech University Prize in Washington, D.C. The students will vie for the competition’s $100,000 in prizes after earning a runner-up spot in the regional showcase.

Depósito de Confianza won the 2018 Acara Challenge undergraduate division.

Sophomore Robyn Thompson from the College of Liberal Arts is leading the project, which aims to increase income security for rural farmers in Nicaragua by offering community-based silos. This will allow farmers to store their grain instead of being forced to sell their product immediately after harvest time when the price is lowest. (The project was initially developed by an interdisciplinary student team in the fall 2017 Grand Challenge Course “Global Venture Design: What Impact Will You Have?”)

A crowd favorite

Deposito de Confianza and Aelios Technology were also voted “Crowd Favorites” in their respective divisions. Each team won a $500 cash prize for its engaging two-minute presentation.

Both teams are working with community partners to develop their ideas—a theme among this year’s field of entries.

The 2018 Acara winners

Students from the six winning teams. Credit: Dustin Carlson

“Creating sustained impact is an important element of the overall Acara philosophy,” says Acara Director Fred Rose. “Developing these relationships is critical to both the human-centered design process that these students are using to create viable plans and to making long-lasting impact.”

The challenge’s gold winners receive up to $5,000 in fellowship funding; the silver winners receive up to $3,000; and the bronze winners receive up to $2,000.

Fellowship funding helps students pay for the costs of piloting their solutions. However, the real prize for the winners is the network of support that Acara has to offer. From being paired with a mentor to further training opportunities, winners receive long-term support to see their projects through.

To see the full list of winners and their projects, visit the Institute on the Environment website.

Adapted from the Acara Blog. Original story written by Anna Brekke.


Pauline Oo, College of Science and Engineering, (612) 626-8257, pauline@umn.edu