Past Y-Prize Winners

Past Y-Prize Winners

In past years, the Y-Prize Competition has served as a springboard for teams to pursue real-world achievement of their winning ideas. Check out past winners’ ideas and get inspired!

2016-2017 Winner: VisiPlate

Y-Prize 2017 Winners Brandon Kao EAS’18, Rui Jing Jiang W’18, and Adarsh Battu W’18

VisiPlate is a nano-scale defense against open angle glaucoma, a condition that can lead to blindness. Open angle glaucoma currently affects 2.8 million people in the U.S. and incurs societal costs of $1.5 billion per year. By 2020, 3.4 million people in the U.S. will suffer from this condition and seek intervention. VisiPlate is an implant that reduces intraocular pressure by draining aqueous fluid from the eye. Thinner, stronger, and more reliable than existing lines of defense, VisiPlate consists of a curved, ultrathin, nanoplate attached to a tube. VisiPlate prevents glaucoma-induced blindness in a long-term, cost-effective way.


2015-2016 Winner: Fermento

Y-Prize 2015-2016 Winners Siddharth Shah, Shashwata Narain, and Alexander David

Y-Prize 2015-2016 Winners Siddharth Shah, Shashwata Narain, and Alexander David

Fermento, now Fermentec, applies Penn’s proprietary droplet-maker technology to speed up the production process used by the $520 billion global beer industry to make beer. Fermentation is a significant bottleneck in beer production as yeast takes up to three weeks to convert sugar liquid into alcohol in a batch reactor setting. Through microfluidic-based production, Fermentec can speed up fermentation by up to 9 times that of existing batch reactors while maintaining alcohol quality and composition at an industrial scale. Faster beer production can lead to substantial cost reductions, and supply and profit growth for large-scale beer manufacturers, as well as smaller microbreweries.

Since the competition, Fermentec has been busy building out the microfluidic flow system that can be directly integrated into beer brewers’ current setup. The chemistry and the nature of the droplets are also being tweaked in order to multiple the speed of beer production compared to current processes. The team is partnering with global beer companies, as well as microbreweries, to pilot the product. They expect to enter funding round within the next few months.

Read more about Fermentec here.


2014-2015 Winner: GTRACK Technologies

Y-Prize 2014-2015 Winners Teddy Guenin (l) and Ashwin Amurthur.

The winning idea for the 2014-2015 nanotechnology-focused competition was proposed by then undergraduates Ashwin Amurthur (W’15 & SEAS’15) and Teddy Guenin (W’15 & SEAS’15).

Since the competition in early 2015, GTRACK Technologies has undergone several changes to the business and applied technology, with efforts now focused on using unique material structures as tracers to detect and characterize fluid flow in oil reservoirs and fracking situations.

GTRACK is currently working towards a partnership with several large oilfield and drilling service companies in order to secure a wellsite for particle testing. Our product is poised to give increased data-driven clarity to the relatively unknown and complex field of interwell subterranean fluid flow, with the particle tracers forming one aspect of the entire solution package that is delivered by GTRACK.

Learn more about GTRACK Technologies here.


2013-2014 Winner: TRHex

Emily Plumb (l) with tech consultant Gavin Kenneally and business consultant Izzy Park.

The winning idea for the 2013-2014 competition, TRHex, was proposed by Mechanical Engineering Masters student Emily Plumb. TRHex, later renamed TOBI, was a teaching robot hexapod designed to give kids hands-on experience with physics and engineering concepts. Emily shares her post-competition experience:

STEM education was a passion for both [Tech consultant] Gavin Kenneally and myself when we initially met in the Kod*Lab. Winning the Y-Prize provided us with the additional motivation and resources to really pursue this passion more in-depth than we would have been able to otherwise.

TOBI allowed us to delve into the entire process needed to address a market need while leveraging the technology developed by the Kod*Lab. From market research, idea generation, to connecting with industry experts and stakeholders, we conceived a system, built it, and launched a pilot program at Central High School. We learned a tremendous amount about what goes into creating a great idea, how to present it, and ultimately when an idea has good traction but not enough to continue to pursue. What we learned during this process we have been able to leverage into other parts of our careers: Emily by working at a startup, MC10, in Boston, and Gavin having launched his own startup, Ghost Robotics.


2012-2013 Winner: IDENTIFIED

Y-Prize winners (l-r) Andy Wu, Kelsey Duncombe-Smith, and Dick Zhang. Photo by Lamont Abrams.

The winning team in the inaugural Y-Prize Competition proposed using quadrotor robots to remotely detect IEDs in war zones. Since the competition, the business model has grown and changed, as has the team. Winner Dick Zhang describes how far they’ve come:

After Y-Prize we participated in Alphalab Gear, a nationally ranked hardware accelerator. We have grown more than 10x year-over-year in 2016, raised $4M in venture financing led by Birchmere Ventures, and serve dozens of the largest construction and oil/gas companies in the world, with clients all over North and South America. We are a team of twenty four based in Pittsburgh.

Identified Technologies delivers big insights for big jobs by automating land surveying and aerial mapping with our Boomerang self-piloting aerial survey drones. They fly themselves, scan, land, charge, and swap their own batteries, and send your site surveying data to the cloud for secure access and analytics.

Photos of Identified team and worksites.

Photos courtesy of Identified Technologies.