Northwestern Teams Win $100,000 at Prestigious Clean Tech Business Plan Competition

MeterGenius awarded $25,000 McCaffery Interests Prize; myPower awarded $75,000 Clean Energy Trust Consumer Favorite Prize

MeterGenius and myPower, two Northwestern clean tech startups, were awarded funding at the 2014 Clean Energy Student Challenge. The Challenge, in its third year, is a regional business plan competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and administered by Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating the development of clean-energy businesses in the Midwest. 

MeterGenius is a free consumer website that provides tools and incentives for residents with smart meters to save money on their electricity bill. Users can track electricity consumption at a granular level, set goals and track their progress, compare themselves to similar neighbors, and earn points that can be redeemed for bill credits. myPower is a consumer device that captures and converts the kinetic energy of a user’s daily motion into extra charge for a cell phone. Combined with an app in development that tracks a user’s physical activity, the device could make a big splash at the cross-section of two large markets: consumer electronics and fitness.

MeterGenius and myPower are 2013 alumni teams of an entrepreneurship course at Northwestern University called NUvention: Energy. Over an intense quarter, interdisciplinary teams of graduate students representing physical and social sciences, engineering, business, and law develop a product or service in the sustainable energy or clean tech industry and pitch it to a board of industry veterans. The purpose of the class is to teach the iterative process of entrepreneurship, using the energy industry vertical as context for broader lessons. The class, a partnership of the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN), works closely with the University’s Innovation and New Ventures Office to leverage IP out of Northwestern labs. Students are also encouraged to present self-generated project ideas at the beginning of the course to potential teammates. 

Although the class is not intended to serve as an incubator, more and more students work on their project beyond the end of the quarter, says Mark Werwath, assistant director at the Farley Center and lead instructor for the course. “NUvention teams tend to be highly driven. The early emphasis on the dynamics of interdisciplinary team formation is an investment in future success. Seeing the enormous progress that teams like myPower and MeterGenius have made is a wonderful validation of the NUvention model.” The Farley Center also runs NUvention courses focused on medical technology, web, nanotechnology, and social impact.

MeterGenius, which is currently in a six-month, 3,000 customer pilot with a retail electricity supplier in Texas, will use the prize money to build a mobile app to accompany their web platform. MeterGenius is also a semifinalist for the MIT Clean Energy Prize and a finalist for the St. Louis Arch Grants, traveling later in April for final pitches. myPower will use the funds to begin their pilot production run; more than 500 people have already signed up to purchase a unit at They will also be competing in the finals of the 1776 Challenge Cup in Washington, DC this May.

“We are thrilled to win Clean Energy Trust's “Consumer Favorite” Prize,” said Alex Smith, myPower chief product officer. None of this would have been possible without NUvention: Energy and the generous support of the Farley Center.” Ty Benefiel, co-founder of MeterGenius shared a similar perspective. “As we talked to electricity suppliers about our idea and how it could solve their customer retention problem, we realized that interest in our product was tangible. We would not be where we are though without the financial and mentorship support of ISEN and Kellogg’s Zell Fellowship. It’s clear these organizations are dedicated to supporting entrepreneurial-minded students, and we are proud to represent them at each competition we enter.”

Over the past three years, companies competing in the challenge have raised more than $40 million in outside investment, created 280 jobs and registered 40 patents and disclosures, officials for Clean Energy Trust said. “These entrepreneurs have invented devices to change the way we create and use energy, services that lower utility bills and streamline the energy sector and new technologies for biofuels, microgrids, and energy storage,” said Amy Francetic, CEO of Clean Energy Trust, in a written statement. “These prizes will help these entrepreneurs to move their technologies out of the laboratory and into the marketplace…Teams from Northwestern have consistently been top performers all three years of the Challenge; we look forward to seeing the next big thing out of the University in 2015.”

The MeterGenius team is comprised of:

  • Ty Benefiel (MBA, Kellogg School of Management, expected graduation in 2014)
  • Hillary Hass (BA in physics, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, expected graduation in 2014) 
  • Yan Man (PhD in mechanical engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, expected graduation in 2017)
  • Fred Thwaites (BS/MS in mechanical engineering ‘13, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science)
  • Yves Xie (PhD in computer science, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, expected graduation in 2015)

The myPower team in comprised of:

  • Michael Geier (PhD in materials science and engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, expected graduation in 2015)
  • Tejas Shastry (PhD in materials science and engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, expected graduation in 2015)
  • Alex Smith (PhD in materials science and engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, expected graduation in 2015)