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The Pure Blue team celebrating their victory at the UW Business Plan Competition.

When you think about innovation, water usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

But there’s a big problem to solve in cleaning up contaminated water, making it safe to drink or re-use.

And for the second time in the past three years, a startup company that promises to clean up contaminated water has won the University of Washington’s Business Plan competition.

Pure Blue Technologies is developing a new water treatment system that uses light to remove contaminants in water, specifically water used in the oil & gas industry.

Co-founder and CEO Ryan Vogel, a senior at the University of Washington, said that the oil & gas industry is wasting billions of gallons of water, about the equivalent of filling four-and-a-half Lake Washingtons every day.

“The reason they waste so much is that the cost of treatment is much higher than the cost of disposal, so they go with the cheaper option, which is they dispose of it,” he said. “This is an environmental catastrophe.”

Ryan Vogel

Pure Blue’s system offers a lower-cost method to clean the water, even allowing the oil & gas company’s drive revenue by reselling the water for re-use in water cooling or irrigation. By year three, Vogel said he hopes that the company will be able to perfect a system to treat the water in such a way that it could be used for bathing or drinking.

“The vision is to create an A to Z water treatment solution that will allow us to convert any water in the world …. into pure potable water for drinking or other purposes,” he said.

As the winner of tonight’s 16th annual event — beating out dozens of teams from around the region — Pure Blue received a $25,000 grand prize and $2,500 idea prize. That followed the 2011 victory of PotaVida, which won the competition for a device that helps people determine if their drinking water is safe.

In total, $68,220 in prize money was handed out at the event, which was keynoted by Appature CEO Kabir Shahani (More on his remarks in a follow-up post).

Here are all of the winners from tonight, with descriptions from the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at the Foster School of Business.

$25,000 Grand Prize – Pure Blue Technologies (UW)
Fossil fuel production generates 882 billion gallons of contaminated “produced water” per year in the US alone. On average, for every barrel of oil extracted in the US, 8 barrels of contaminated water are extracted to the surface. Pure Blue Technologies has developed a contaminated water treatment system that uses visible light photo disinfection technology to produce disinfected water for beneficial reuse.
Pure Blue Technologies won second place at this year’s UW Environmental Innovation Challenge.

Team: Jaffer Alali, MS Environmental Engineering; Adam Greenberg, BA Finance and Entrepreneurship;  Michael Lee, MS Mechanical Engineering; Alan Luo, PhD Physics; Sep Makhous, PhD Electrical Engineering; Ryan Vogel, BA Finance and Entrepreneurship; Ian Tan, BA Finance; Nicholas Wang, BA Chemical Engineering

$13,220 Second Place Prize – Z Girls (UW)
Studies show that adolescent girls who participate in sports  are more self-confident, get better graders, are less likely to engage in at-risk behaviors, and are more likely to go to college. Unfortunately, by age 14, girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys. Z Girls has developed a sports-based curriculum that gives girls ages 11-14 the opportunity to develop skills like goal-setting, positive self-image, and healthy nutrition habits through team programs and summer camps.

Team:  Libby Ludlow, JD and Technology Entrepreneurship Certificate; Jacob Dudek; Jilyne Higgins

$5,000 Finalist Prize – Poly Drop (UW)
Conductive coating is used to move electrostatic charge across a surface (like the surface of an aircraft), so that it does not accumulate and interfere with electronic equipment or cause sparks that can lead to fire. PolyDrop has created a conductive polymer additive for paints, primers and coatings that is lighter, more affordable, longer lasting, and has better adhesion than other products on the market.

Team: Michele Chaffee, MBA; Olga Hrechka, BS Chemical Engineering; Heather Milligan, BS Chemical Engineering

$5,000 Finalist Prize – NIA Wheel (SPU)
NIA Wheel has found that 5,596,000 people in the US are paralyzed. 360,000 of those are quadriplegic – confined to a wheelchair with very limited control over their mobility. The NIA (Neurological Impulse Actuator) wheelchair is activated and controlled by the brain function of the user, eliminating the disconnect between mental capability and physical disability of quadriplegics and others who have lost mobility.

Team: Sergey Kisel, BS Electrical Engineering; Clarence Rieu, BS Electrical Engineering; Aryn Schatz, BA Business Administration; Jessica Way, BA Economics

Best Idea Prizes

$2,500 Best Technology Idea – PolyDrop (UW)

$2,500 Best Service/Retail Idea – Z Girls (UW)

$2,500 Best Sustainable Advantage – Pure Blue Technologies (UW)

$2,500 Best Innovation Idea – InsuLenz (UW)

InsuLenz is developing a “smart” polymer contact lens to provide a bio-responsive and needle-free insulin delivery platform for diabetics. Team: Nick Au, PhD Medicinal Chemistry; Karen Eaton, PhD Bioengineering; Caleb Gerig, MBA; Craig McNary, MBA; Mohammed Minhaj, MBA; Renuka Ramanathan, PhD Bioengineering

$2,500 Best Consumer Product Idea – iHome3D (UW)
iHome3D is a mobile app that allows realtors to create a virtual tour and floor plan of a property, in minutes. Team: Nelson Haung, MBA; Aditya Sankar, PhD Computer Science/Engineering

$2,500 Best Cleantech Idea – Biomethane (BGI/WWU/UW)
Biomethane creates greenhouse-gas-negative vehicle fuel from dairy waste. Team: Jessica Anundson, MBA; Branden Audet, MA Policy Studies; Kathlyn Kinney, MBA; Colby Ochsner, MBA

$5,000 AARP Prize for low-income senior service – NIA Wheel (SPU)

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