People Prosperity and the Planet (P3)

First Impressions: an Introduction to EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program

By Nick Werner

The first day of work at a new job can be a daunting, maybe even a mildly-panic-inducing-event.  And chances are, every last one of us has experienced the first-day jitters at least a couple times in our lives and the butterflies will likely still be there for our next go around as “the new kid.”  In a lot of ways, the first day of work at a new job parallels the first day of class at a new school – you must begin to memorize the names and interests of your coworkers, learn about the type and amount of work you will be undertaking, find out what your bosses will expect from you, carefully pick where you want to sit at lunch, and so on.  However, work and school are also similar in that, after about the first week or two, you have started to find your niche in your new environment.

SBIR graphicIn my case, fittingly enough, my new environment was the Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA), and my niche was the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.  The SBIR program is a competition that, for over 30 years now, has served as a source of early-stage funding for innovative small companies in the green tech field.  Internally, it is a close-knit group of dedicated people, striving towards bettering the world by ensuring that the necessary funding goes to teams that can create tangible change.  And because we are all passionate about the same topics, it has made the transition from “new kid” to “team member” a relatively seamless process.

From the moment I stepped off the elevator, I was introduced to the idea that even though EPA has a number of independent programs, they are all interconnected. Student-oriented competitions such as Science to Achieve Results fellowships and the People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program provide research funding to individuals and teams of students. Some of the projects have gone from competing in P3 to becoming a small business with an EPA SBIR contract – including Lucid Connects, Environmental Fuel Research (EFR), and SimpleWater.  In fact, both Lucid and EFR will be in attendance at the SBIR National Conference, which will be held in conjunction with the Tech Connect World Innovation Conference and Expo this week.  The conference will comprise of a number of events, including many informative panel sessions – highlighted by the one with Lucid and EFR on bringing innovative environmental technologies to market.

My role in this program centers on improving organization and efficiency, so that more focus can be placed on the individuals and teams who are striving to solve some of the most pressing challenges facing our world today.  The experience and freedom to solve problems in creative ways will certainly aid me in the future as I endeavor to leave my mark on the world as well.


photo of authorAbout the Author:
Nick Werner is a student contractor working with the People, Prosperity, and Planet (P3) program, and assisting with the SBIR program, both of which are in the EPA’s Office of Research and Development.  Nick is an avid sports fan who hopes to pursue a graduate degree in marine biology or marine conservation in the near future.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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My Confidence in Future Young Scientists

By Thabit Pulak

EPA guest blogger Thabit and friends

The students were taking part in “enrichment clusters,” sessions in which they learn about one important public issue in depth. I was invited by 2nd-grade teacher Ms. Claborn to visit her cluster on water purification and to present a real-life example of a water filter.

I had recently worked to develop an affordable filter that removed not only bacteria and contaminants from water, but also arsenic, a poisonous substance that affects nearly 150 million people across the world today. I had the opportunity to present my water filter at the 2012 Intel International Science Fair, where I won 3rd place and EPA’s Patrick J. Hurd Sustainability Award. The Hurd Award included an invitation to present my project at the annual National Sustainable Design Expo, which showcases EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program.

STEM in the classroomI presented the filter to the class and answered questions, learning just as much from them as they did from me.  I was invited to stay for the remainder of the cluster, where the students were putting final touches on their own water filters. Ms. Claborn gave each of the students some muddy water to run through the filters. It was exciting for me to see the children’s smiles as they looked at the clean water slowly trickling out of the open edge of the soda bottle after traveling through the sand and rocks. The filters were based on a water filtration activity that EPA designed specifically for students.

Afterwards, I was invited to attend the upcoming STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) exhibit that the school was hosting. The students’ mini filters would be on display, and I was invited to display my filter alongside theirs. As the stream of curious parents and students came in, I gladly talked about both what the students did and my own filter, and what this means for the future of environmental sustainability issues like water.

This was my first opportunity to present my work outside of my school and science fairs. I felt very honored and happy to be able to give something back to the community. I hope to find ways to keep doing so!


About the Author: Guest blogger Thabit Pulak of Richardson, Texas was the winner of the Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012. As part of this award, he was invited to attend and exhibit at the National Sustainable Design Expo, home of the P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability in Washington, DC. He was also the recipient of the 2013 Davidson Fellows Award

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Advice from Student Entrepreneurs: “Embrace your Chutzpah”

Reposted from The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy blog.

Engineers checking a reactor.

John Bissell (left) and Ryan Smith (right) inspect a pilot reactor. Bissell, Smith, and Casey McGrath (not pictured) co-founded the biotechnology company Micromidas soon after graduating from the University of California, Davis.

By Douglas Herrin

When they founded their biotechnology company, Micromidas, Ryan Smith was 30, Casey McGrath was 24, and John Bissell was 23—and all were recently graduated students at University of California, Davis (UC Davis). Together, they have developed innovative processes for converting sewage into biodegradable plastics—which won them the 2008 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3)competition for sustainability—and cellulosic wastes into para-xylene.

I spoke with John Bissell to find out how he turned his lab research into a growing company. To date, Micromidas has built a pilot plant and raised more than $20 million in venture capital.

What was your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?

We were encouraged by UC Davis Professor Frank Loge to submit an interesting research project for evaluation. We started out as a team of engineers (I am a chemical engineer), and expanded the team to include a microbiologist. We ended up at the EPA P3 event in Washington, DC, as college seniors. At the time, we were converting sewer water into biodegradable plastics through microbial fermentation. After we won the competition, we sat at the Metro Center subway stop thinking the same thing: “Are we going to do more?”

After returning home to UC Davis, Professor Andrew Hargadon welcomed us to an entrepreneurship boot camp called the Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy. Its aim was to help scientists and engineers become entrepreneurs. We were some of the only undergraduates at the camp. We wanted to know what it looks like to start a company. By the end of 2008, we had formed Micromidas and an angel investor had provided $200,000 in seed funding.

Read more…

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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