A team of two Oklahoma State University students won the Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Competition with its startup business plan for Contraire, a predictive analysis control system designed to provide near real-time wastewater test measurements.
“I am extremely proud of the team,” said David Thomison, clinical assistant professor and George Kaiser Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship. “They worked hard for months, before the QEC competition, validating the municipality customer market problem and then aligning this innovative product service to satisfy this need in a true ‘win-win’ approach.”
Contraire, which earned $20,000 Canadian (about $15,000 USD), includes OSU environmental engineering student Rabecca Wiseman and entrepreneurship student Brooks Robison and was advised by Thomison. The company’s technology is designed to assist wastewater treatment plants in reducing electricity usage by up to 45 percent, which can save on average $250,000 annually in utility costs.
“We are proud of the work we have done and believe that this is something that could help treatment plants all over the United States,” said Wiseman. “I’m shocked that we even placed. There were so many great plans there and I just kept thinking ‘There is no way they will vote for wastewater optimization.’”
The current water quality test used by wastewater treatment plants, which determines the required aeration for wastewater to degrade contaminants, requires a five-day testing time for the biological oxygen demand. As an impact, operators often over-aerate to ensure they meet environmental permit limits. This delay results in unnecessarily high air uptake rates and treatment plants spending an unnecessary amount on electricity.
"We are proud of the work we have done and believe that this is something that could help treatment plants all over the United States. I’m shocked that we even placed. There were so many great plans there and I just kept thinking ‘There is no way they will vote for wastewater optimization.’ "
“This started as a proposal from my master’s advisor,” said Wiseman, referring to Dr. Dave Lampert, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering. “He wrote the proposal to the Environmental Protection Agency to find out how much electricity and money was being wasted at the wastewater treatment plants and it turns out that it’s quite a bit.”
The Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Competition, hosted by Queen’s University in Toronto, is Canada’s most prestigious undergraduate startup competition. Each year, business plans are submitted from around the world and narrowed to the top 15 teams which are invited to Toronto. There, teams pitch their business plans to a panel of Canadian business leaders. The OSU team advanced to the final three with teams from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the University of Toronto.
“While the money is great and it will help us continue to improve the testing and the business model, we were also able to connect with business leaders and learn from them,” said Robison. “We had several judges come up to us and ask about investment opportunities. We aren’t there yet but that was exciting.”
Contraire made history in 2018 as the winners of the 2018 Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup when the team took first place and $20,000 in the statewide competition. The team has plans to attend Princeton University’s Tigerlaunch, the nation’s largest student-run entrepreneurship competition, this February in Chicago.
“These competitions are great to help match the grants we have received and practice for when we do start to approach investors,” said Robison.
Updated on Feb. 25, 2019: Contraire also placed among the top five teams in the TigerLaunch regional pitch competition hosted by Princeton University on Feb. 16 in Chicago, allowing them to advance to the finals at Princeton in April.