CAES Annual Pitch Event 2021: Pathways to INL Net Zero

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A faculty member from Idaho State University and two researchers with Idaho National Laboratory (INL) emerged as the winners of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies' annual pitch event. Modeled after the Shark Tank television show, CAES Annual Pitch Event 2021: Pathways to INL Net Zero was designed to help the research community at INL's Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) develop and hone the skills needed to effectively pitch technical ideas or solutions, and to help INL accelerate its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2031.

We were excited to have the CAES Annual Pitch Event for the second year in a row, and for the first time leverage the capabilities of the CAES universities and INL toward INL's ambitious carbon-neutrality goals, CAES Interim Director Terry Brog said.

Researchers from all of the CAES entities participated — INL, Boise State University, Idaho State and University of Idaho. The competition began in July with a call for ideas in three categories: projects that were ready to implement today, demonstration-level projects that require development before implementation, and an open submission category in which all ideas were welcome. Fourteen ideas advanced to the semifinals, and the contestants took part in training designed to help them more effectively pitch their ideas.

We had a strong team supporting this challenge, said CAES Innovation Advisor Michael Baskin. INL trainers provided value proposition training, Rapid Idea Improvement Sessions, feedback in the semifinals and pitch coaching for the finalists. The developmental aspect of the challenge was as important as the impact aspect.

The field was cut to eight for the final round, and each finalist was allotted five minutes to pitch their idea live before a panel of judges (see below) during the final competition Sept. 23. One winner was selected in each of the three categories. Each will receive $15K in research funding to help further develop their idea, and the runners-up also will receive funding to help advance their ideas. Here is a list of the finalists who received awards:

Track A: Demonstration Projects

  • First place: Amey Khanolkar/INL, Innovative Carbon-Free HVAC Systems using Nuclear Micro-Reactors at INL's Site : $15K
  • Runner up: Naqsh Mansoor/Boise State University, Energy Efficient Water Remediation via Flow Electrode Capacitive Deionization : $13K
  • Second runner up: Muhammad Usama Usman/INL, INL Internet of Buildings (INL-IoB) Platform : $10K

Track B: Implement Today

  • First place: Benny Varghese/INL , Solar Covered Parking Spots : $15K
  • Runner up: Damon Woods/University of Idaho, Infrared Thermostat : $10K
  • Second Runner up: Amey Khanolkar/INL, Modernizing INL's Buildings Using Electrochromatic Smart Windows

Track C: Open Submission

  • First place: Mustafa Mashal/Idaho State University, Sustainable and Green Concrete Mixes for INL's Infrastructure : $15K
  • Runner up: Michael Hoover/INL, Essential Function Analysis Capability — Business Continuity : $10K

The judges panel consisted of:

  • Stephen Boorman, assistant general manager at Idaho Falls Power
  • Shannon Bragg-Sitton, Integrated Energy Systems lead in INL's Nuclear Science & Technology directorate
  • Hayes Jones, Resilience and Security and Operations supervisor for the US Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program
  • Mitchell Kerman, director of Institutional Planning and Programs at INL
  • Deborah Tate, INL's Campus Planning director

Everyone in the CAES community was eligible for the competition — students, faculty and staff at Boise State University, Idaho State University and University of Idaho, and researchers at INL — and no idea was considered too big or too small, raw or demonstration-ready. All contestants were eligible for training on how to more effectively pitch their ideas and research via the CO*STAR and RIIS methods plus pitch coaching from INL’s in-house expert.

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Details on the three tracks:
Track A: Demonstration projects that reduce INL Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions footprint
Propose a technology demonstration, with a preference for a current Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 4-7, that could be initiated, with the support of external funding sources (current or potential), at small, medium or large-scale, by 2024, within the INL site, INL footprint within Idaho Falls, or other Idaho/regional location, that leads to reduction in INL Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Scope 1 or Scope 2 emissions, from sources such as: vehicles and heavy equipment, landfills, wastewater treatment, stationary combustion, electricity generation, and/or transmission/distribution losses, or other combination thereof. Submissions which are in scope will drastically decrease, minimize, or halt INL-related GHG emissions through demonstrations of new technologies or applications, increase the efficiency of current technologies, and/or combine technologies in new or novel ways.
The most recent INL emissions data is available here.
The FY2020 INL Site Sustainability Plan is available here.

Track B: Implement Today
Propose commercially-available/proven technologies, applications, methods, or operating processes, at niche (one-off/single use), small, medium, or large-scale, that can be initiated within the next year, within the INL site, INL footprint within Idaho Falls, or other Idaho/regional location, that leads to any form of reduction in INL Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Scope 1 or Scope 2 emissions. Submissions which are in scope will decrease, minimize, or halt INL-related GHG emissions within the next year through existing technologies, applications, methods or operating processes, and/or combine them in new or novel ways.

Track C: Open Submission
Propose any/all ideas, non-technology collaborations, initiatives, applications, methods, programs, operating processes, as well as technologies, that can be initiated within the next year, that can lead to any form of reduction in INL Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Scope 1 or Scope 2 emissions. Submissions to Track C: Open Submission which are in scope will decrease, minimize, or halt INL-related GHG emissions and are intended to solicit ideas and submissions that may not necessarily fall within Track A: Demonstrations and Track B: Implement Tomorrow.

Scope and structure
Initial submissions were due by August 15. Submissions were limited to one page.

  • Stage 1
    • Information session:
      – Recording available here
      – Slides available here (pdf)
    • CO*STAR training: July 14, 20 & 22, August 12
    • Initial submission due August 15
    • Field winnowed to 10 contestants in each track (first down-select): August 17-18
  • Stage 2
    • RIIS training: August 24-26
    • Video submissions updated to reflect CO*STAR and RIIS training by COB September 1
    • Field culled to 3-5 semifinalists per track: September 3-7
  • Stage 3
    • Finals event: September 23
    • Presentation development coaching September 14-16
    • Professional development funding awarded
  • Stage 4
    • Review progress of contestants who received funding
    • Implement proposals/ideas
    • Identify & explore additional funding mechanisms

CAES seems well-suited to contribute to assist INL in meeting its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2031 as CAES was designed to harness the power of collaboration to meet grand challenges. The shark tank competition is designed to leverage those resources in the pursuit of this goal, to show the world what can be accomplished by those who dare to try.
The most recent INL emissions data is available here.
Information about INL’s strategic initiatives is available here.

By incorporating a real-world problem set into the competition, the competition is intended to capitalize on the assets and resources of the CAES entities to develop ideas and capabilities in a disciplined manner. At the same time, the competition provides the CAES research community with training needed to effectively communicate technical ideas and solutions in short, dynamic and engaging presentations. This competition is designed to:

  • Provide a platform for the research community to practice using these skills in front of a panel of technical experts and those connected with entrepreneurship
  • Deliver access to direct feedback on work throughout the process, providing the foundation for their evolution and improvement as well as future industry collaborations
  • Provide an opportunity for participants to highlight awards and training, for their own advancement
  • Attract interest in future entrepreneurship initiatives at CAES

CO*STAR and RIIS training
The event provides participants with access to training to develop the skills required to pitch innovative ideas more effectively. Participants will receive streamlined access to CO*STAR and RIIS training. A CO*STAR training session is set for August 12 at 10 am MST. Go here to register.

  • CO*STAR, which stands for Customer, Opportunity, Solution, Team, Advantage, Results, is a method for turning ideas into powerful value propositions that was developed in Silicon Valley.
  • RIIS stands for Rapid Idea Improvement Session, and it allows participants to engage in constructive feedback sessions with a diverse group of researchers that result in the development of ideas and, ideally, breakthrough innovations.

CO*STAR and RIIS material:
CAES CO*STAR Elevator Pitch template (PDF)
CO*STAR-RIIS Cheat Sheet (PDF)
CO*STAR Presentation Template (PPT)

Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Will I be reimbursed by CAES for time spent at the training or in the development of my idea throughout the competition?
A: No, there is no stipend or charge number available to cover labor costs during the competition.
Q: If I win, can I use the $$ on equipment?
A: No, these are program development funds, which cannot be used for research activities, including materials and equipment. Instead, this funding is intended to cover your time or labor as you develop your idea.
Q: If I win, how does the funding work — for a university employee and for an INL employee.
A: The origin of the funding of up to $20K for the first place winners and $10K for the director’s award winner is CAES program development funds, which cannot be used on research activities, including the purchase of materials or equipment; instead, the prize money is intended to cover time spent further developing the winning proposals, to make them more attractive to additional funding. More information on CAES program development funds is available here.
Q: Why is CAES doing this? What is the objective?
A: The objective is twofold, to help accelerate INL’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions within 10 years and to help the CAES community learn to better pitch their innovative ideas or research. See Outcomes above for more information.
Q: Will the info sessions be recorded? If so, how do I access that?
A: Yes, a link is available on this page.
Q: Who are the judges or sharks, and what criteria will they use to determine the winners?
A: We are working on the lineup of judges, will provide that information as soon as we can. In general, contestants will be judged on the following criteria:
– Alignment with the call or need
- Is sufficient evidence provided that the project is in response to a need?
- Is it clear that the submitter(s) understand the problem or challenge, and that the submission fills a gap?
– Feasibility
- Is the proposal technically viable, is the cost to return on investment ratio reasonable, etc?
- IS there an implementation plan?
– Strategic impact & innovation
- Does the project or idea have broad impact for non-Idaho markets?
- Does the project significantly reduce carbon emissions?
- For track B submissions: Would this project reduce INL carbon emissions?
– Presentation pitch quality (semifinals and finals)
- Did the pitch include effective visual aids (graphics, charts, photos, etc)
- How succinct, clear, smooth and balanced was the presentation
- Did the presentation stay within the time limit?
Q: How many entries can I submit?
A: A contestant or team can submit as many as three entries.
Q: Can anyone enter the competition?
A: Anyone affiliated with a CAES entity can enter – INL, Boise State University, Idaho State University or University of Idaho. For teams, all members must have a current CAES connection.
Q: Who can I talk with about this competition?
A: Email Sustainable INL Program Manager Chris Ischay, Innovation Projects Analyst Natalie Summers, INL Systems Engineer Liam Boire, or CAES Innovation Adviser Michael Baskin.

CAES launched the inaugural CAES Annual Pitch Event (CAPE), also known as Baby Shark Tank, in summer 2020 to promote the innovation pillar outlined in the CAES Strategy, although the event combines elements of all 3 CAES strategy pillars — research, education, and innovation. Everyone in the CAES community was eligible to participate in the inaugural competition — students and faculty at the universities and researchers at INL — and it was open to all levels of ideas, from early-stage concepts to investment-ready research. Entries were judged on overall merit of the effectiveness of the pitch rather than the readiness of the technology they pitched.

The goal of the inaugural event was to teach the participants how to convince others — funding agencies, potential industry partners, or even investors — to take action in support of an idea. The competition began with 33 competitors. The field was cut to 18, and the finals featured 10 participants competing for cash prizes worth nearly $4,000. Each finalist had five minutes to pitch their idea to a panel of judges: INL's Deputy Laboratory Director for Science and Technology and Chief Research Officer, Dr. Marianne Walck; ISU Acting Vice President for Research and Economic Development Dr. Donna Lybecker; INL's Industry Engagement Director and Chief Commercial Officer, Corey McDaniel; Nicolas Miller, Executive Director of the Venture College at Boise State University; and Nick Crabbs, Co-Chair of Boise Startup Week and Founding member of VYNYL.

Xingyue Yang, a visualization researcher at Idaho National Laboratory, won the $1,500 first place prize for her idea to use unmanned aerial vehicles to create enhanced visualization capabilities to train firefighting forces beat out nine other finalists in the competition. Yang's pitch called for using an enhanced visualization capability that enables fire fighters and fire managers to visualize real-time wildfire simulations in a 3D/immersive environment. Drones with thermal sensors and cameras would collect the data and send it to supercomputers to run simulations. In addition to providing more effective and safe training and education for firefighters and managers, this enhanced visualization capability would provide real-time information for fire evacuation.

The second-place winner, INL Researcher Richard Skifton, won $1,000 for his idea: a sublime temperature sensor (STS) that measures temperature profiles by precisely locating specific temperatures of interest.

Bo Zhang, the third-place finisher, received $750 for his idea for a state-of-the-art electromagnetic shield that would allow for safer charging of electric vehicles.

Skifton also won the People's Choice award, a $500 prize.