By Kat Riddler, Managing Editor
The University of Missouri System, University of Missouri-St. Louis Accelerate, Ameren, and Capital Innovators hosted the first-ever Ameren Accelerator Demo Day on October 26, at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.
The highly anticipated event attracted more than 500 RSVPs. The event was from 1 to 5 p.m. and allowed attendees to interact with the seven startup companies who participated in the Ameren Accelerator. In Ju the program was announced and the innovative program aimed at promoting energy technologies and economic development in St. Louis began with seven companies chosen out of the 200 applications from 31 countries and 22 states who applied.
There was an intense selection process including their own “Shark Tank” like presentations to the selection team. Each of the winning groups received $100,000 in seed capital to participate in the 12-week program. The startups presented plans and prototypes of their new energy technology they have been working on.
The program started at 1 p.m. with remarks by UMSL alumnus and Chairman, President, and CEO of Ameren Corporation Warner Baxter. Founding Executive Director of the UMSL Accelerate Dan Lauer spoke next. Lauer was followed by Judy Sindecuse, CEO of Capital Innovators. Then each of the seven participating startup companies spoke till about 3:30 p.m.
The startup companies were Blossom, Hyperion Sensors, Omega Grid, Rebate Bus, SensrTrx, Switched Source, and WIFIPLUG.
Blossom is a way for two parties to exchange anything of value using simple digital agreements set by user-defined rules. Blossom’s energy solution allows users to easily negotiate the selling, sharing, trading, or storage of excess energy capacity by bartering with others.
Hyperion Sensors has developed a substation hardened distributed fiber optic sensor for high voltage assets that allows these large grid assets to become “intelligent”. In other words, enabling IoT within the smart grid.
Omega Grid is a market software that removes the revenue risk of distributed generation for utilities, encourages energy investment by property owners and enables access to lower rates for everyone.
Rebate Bus is a platform for utility programs to deliver instant rebates online via high traffic e-commerce stores.
SensrTrx is an analytics application focused on using industrial data to improve uptime, performance, and reliability of manufacturing and industrial systems.
Switched Source provides equipment solutions for electric distribution companies that make the grid more resilient and efficient, while supporting the integration of more distributed generation.
WIFIPLUG is the smartest of smart plugs. It learns your routines making your life easier, saving you money on your energy bills. You can control the plug with your voice using Siri, Alexa and Google. It’s the only smartplug in the world to offer open source API for developers.
Several UMSL students were placed in an internship with these startup companies and worked with them during the 12-week program.
Andrew Vaughn, senior, mechanical engineer, was paired with Switched Source. Vaughn said, “My experience with the Ameren Accelerator internship was phenomenal. I had a chance to work on real world problems where I could use my engineering knowledge to design a product for my company. It was a great experience to use my engineering knowledge. I would absolutely do it again.”
Vaughn said he enjoyed the networking atmosphere at Cortex. “Networking through the internship was an everyday event. What I mean by that is that every day you were at Cortex you had a chance to meet someone from Ameren who could be a potential employer for you in the future… I met a man named Steve. Steve and I remained in contact for a while. Now Steve is looking to get me a possible job after I graduate. The networking through the Ameren Accelerate is fantastic and it is an everyday activity,” said Vaughn.
Alex Zvibleman, junior, business management, was paired with WIFIPLUG. Zvibleman said, “I think the greatest experience with the UMSL Ameren Accelerator was the opportunity to see challenges put in real companies’ faces then to see them achieve goals to overcome those challenges. It was especially interesting because I’m looking to start my own venture.”
Zvibleman continued, “To know that these are experience that I will have to go through at some point is reassuring. That experience is something that you can’t get in a textbook, in a class, or from a teacher even. It is something you have to do hands-on.”
The 90 day experience was probably the coolest experiences in my life. It was 90 days of new challenges, new answers. I had a fiscal product we had to track through the process. Not only to say that we had a goal, we coded it whatever. We can say, okay we have printed the front plate of the plug, we have designed the interior of the plug. The weekly accomplishments were pretty cool.”
Zvibleman explained there was some difficulty communicating sometimes because his boss at WIFIPLUG had to return to the UK several times because he had a son. Zvibleman loved the internship despite the added difficulty. He said: “I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was 90 days of stress. It was 90 days of missing tests and classes and not being on top of my game. But this experience outweighs any experience I would get in a classroom.”
Zvibleman also had a positive networking experience. He said, “Once you told people you were part of the UMSL Ameren Accelerator people were like ‘let me shake your hand and get a little more information.’ It definitely opened up a larger field. I’ve been offered more jobs within the last 90 days than I have in my entire life. So networking, the support, the continued backing of the UMSL members were just unreal.”
Davontae Anderson, senior, marketing, was paired with Sensr Trx. He said, “I really enjoyed the program. One of the biggest takeaways from the program would be the connections I made. Not only with the startups or the higher ups in UMSL Accelerate like Dan and Ala, but with the other interns. I hope to start my own marketing firm one day, so knowing I have friends that I can say ‘hey I need help designing this website’ or ‘hey I need help marketing this product’, having those friends and connections with other interns is probably the biggest takeaway from this internship. I would definitely do it again.”