The Voltaic Coatings group includes, from left, Keith Modzelweski, Pat Lowry, Chelsea Haughn and Rick Walsh. Not pictured is team member Nandita Bhagwat.

Entrepreneurial honors

UD graduate students bring home Delaware entrepreneurial awards


11:42 a.m., Aug. 23, 2011--What does it take to create a successful business? Five University of Delaware graduate students proved they know just what it takes, bringing home two awards from the Delaware Governor’s Entrepreneurial Conference held earlier this summer at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington.

Voltaic Coatings, a company led by Keith Modzelewski, Rick Walsh, Patrick Lowry, Nandita Bhagwat and Chelsea Haughn, won “Best StudentPreneur” honors as well as the coveted prize of “Best Overall Business” at the conference, which was designed to provide valuable knowledge on such topics as accessing capital and growing exports, and insight on workforce training for new economy jobs and accelerating a clean energy economy.

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Through the conference over $28,000 was awarded to the businesses that created the most compelling arguments for the future success and marketability of their companies. Voltaic Coatings was appreciative of the cash that accompanied their awards.

“As the accountant in the group, it’s nice to have real money to balance the books going forward,” said Lowry jokingly after the win.

Walsh, chief operating officer of the company, credited the win to business savvy and good fortune.

“We got lucky with our team,” he said. “We are very balanced between business expertise and scientific knowledge. As we began working with the technology, our passion for creating this business grew.”

Haughn and Bhagwat, the scientific minds of the team, agreed the conference was an invaluable experience and noted they learned the value of taking science out of the lab and using innovation to apply technology to solve real world problems.

Modzelewski said the rigorous development process through the Delaware Economic Development Office’s (DEDO) Spring 2011 Entrepreneurial Boot Camp Program – which preceded the conference – helped the team learn valuable lessons to keep their business surviving and thriving.

“DEDO’s boot camp was designed to help companies begin the process of creating business plans to serve as a kind of blueprint to map their directions and goals,” said Modzeleski, chief executive officer of Voltaic Coatings. “This process helped us detail and analyze market size, product development, analysis of competition and projected expenses and cash requirements to make it through the 'valley of death,' a term coined to describe the first years of operation when a company is operating at a loss.”

In the latter part of the camp, businesses has to pitch their plans in 10 minutes to a panel of 12 judges. Modzelewski said the camp helped prepare the team for their wins at the conference.

Voltaic Coatings saw additional success during UD Alumni Weekend, where the Entrepreneurial Studies program hosted its inaugural Venture Pitch Contest at the newly relocated Venture Development Center (VDC). The team took first place in the contest that was judged by alumni who attended the event. 

“It has been exciting watching these students grow their ideas at the VDC,” said Dan Freeman, director of the Entrepreneurial Studies program and professor of business administration. “I hope the success of Voltaic Coatings will stimulate other students to take their ideas to the next level of entrepreneurship and develop interdisciplinary businesses while using the resources provided at the VDC.”

About Voltaic Coatings

The team began working on their company under the guidance of Scott Jones, professor of accounting and former director of the VDC; Keith Goossen, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; and John Rabolt, the Karl W. and Renate Böer Professor of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE), in a graduate-level High Technology Entrepreneurship class offered jointly by the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and the College of Engineering.

Throughout the class, student groups were given access to technological innovations created by other UD faculty with the goal of creating a business model around that technology. 

“Voltaic Coatings works with an electro-conductive polymer created by Dr. David Martin and Dr. Katie Feldman in the MSE department,” said Modzelewski. “We are looking at applications in computer displays, touch screens, thin film solar cells and flat panel televisions.

“Ultimately, we believe this technology could bring a huge change to existing markets and allow for the creation of flexible screens that are paper-thin.”

Article by Kathryn Marrone Meier and Keith Modzelewski

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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