Wayne State student entrepreneurs celebrate strong showing in statewide energy competition

DETROIT (Feb. 27, 2013) – A business plan by Wayne State University College of Engineering students Tom Kim and Joe Zakar is gaining momentum for its focus on providing sustainable lighting solutions and developing greener, brighter and more efficient LEDs. Kim and Zakar’s plan took fourth place in the Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge at the University of Michigan earlier this month.

  Kim (left) and Zakar at Michigan
Clean Energy Venture Challenge.

The competition is part of a national effort encouraging young entrepreneurs to develop greener energy solutions through President Obama’s Startup America campaign. According to a UM release, a total of 22 teams representing 10 Michigan colleges and universities made it to the semifinals this year, almost double the number of schools represented in last year’s competition. Kim and Zakar competed in the Increased Energy Efficiency category.

According to Zakar, the idea for their startup, Signal Electronics, came from Kim after a two-year employment stint at a home improvement store.

“One of Tom's job duties was to sell and promote replacement LED bulbs to customers. Many of the customers didn’t like the bulbs because of dimmer switch incompatibility, terrible aesthetics, and lack of brightness. Tom thought of a way to fix all of these all of these problems, and, most importantly, we have increased efficiency and greenness,” said Zakar.

Zakar added that an additional goal of the plan is to contribute to economic growth in Michigan.

“Our business plan is focused on bringing jobs to Detroit. Many of the most promising LED vendors are based in Michigan, so it would greatly add to the robust clean energy market Michigan has always had.”

Mentors Aubrey Agee of Blackstone Launchpad and Dan Radomski of NextEnergy worked closely with Kim and Zakar over the past four months to fine-tune the plan and prepare for the competition.

“Tom and Joe's business acumen has grown exponentially in the past four months,” Agee said. “What's even more impressive is all the work and determination they've put into engineering and building a brighter, greener, more cost effective and better looking LED light bulb than what's out in market today. I attribute this to their own tenacity, creativity and intelligence, but also to the College of Engineering.”

“We are very thankful to our mentors for preparing us for this competition,” Zakar said. “I would highly recommend this competition to other students — especially for engineers. It is extremely important that engineers become trained in business.” 

For more information, contact Zakar at zakar.joe@gmail.com or visit Blackstone Launchpad online at http://wayne.edu/blackstonelaunchpad/.

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Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering 370 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 29,000 students. For more information about engineering at Wayne State University, visit engineering.wayne.edu.


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