Last school year, Carlson School PhD students Hans Rawhouser and Nachiket Bhawe created the Applied Technology Entrepreneurship (MGMT 4080) class with the intent to bring together Carlson School business students and University science and engineering students. Their goal was to have the two groups collaborate and create new business opportunities.
Little did they know that the first class they would lead would be so successful, and it all started by Rawhouser and Bhawe tapping into a resource right in their backyard - it was a move that would open a new and promising prospect for two of their students.
"We thought that the science and engineering students would come with the ideas and the business students would help them prepare a business plan," says Rawhouser, reflecting on how he and Bhawe initially envisioned the class format. "But then, John Stavig, the professional director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School, connected us with the Venture Center and we realized there's this 'store' of really interesting ideas from professors throughout the University."
Rawhouser and Bhawe decided to invite select University professors to share their intellectual property with the class. "It gave the students the chance to mine where the 'gold' is rather than come up with a good idea that hasn't had any work put into it yet," says Rawhouser.
"Gold' was certainly struck by class students Joe Mullenbach and Alex Johansson who were then College of Science and Engineering seniors.
After hearing a guest professor's presentation on research that identified a technology that breaks down atrazine, a farming herbicide, Mullenbach and Johansson, along with Carlson School business student Todd Michlitsch, decided for their class project they'd utilize the professor's technology to develop a more effective method of minimizing the herbicide in drinking water.
Atrazine often contaminates waterways through field run-off, and the Environmental Protection Agency has long required water systems to test and treat for atrazine, yet in recent years the safety and the regulations on the treatment of atrazine has been scrutinized by scientists.
"The original intention of the research was to remove [atrazine] out of water," says Johansson. "We used our engineering background to design a product concept that implemented the technology, and then we went through the different steps of business development, from creating a business plan to an investor pitch."
"There's 15 years of research, published papers, and intellectual property behind this idea," added Mullenbach. "It's a lot different thing than to start from scratch."
Once the students knew they had a promising product concept, they turned to the Carlson School's Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship for help on getting their start-up company off the ground. Through the center's numerous business connections, they received guidance from intellectual property attorneys and numerous mentors on everything from market and financial analysis to customer deployment. The center even helped them secure a seed grant.
"Everything we lacked as engineering students we were able to get from the Holmes Center," says Johansson. "I wouldn't have thought a year and a half ago that we would be at any point close to where we are today, and the reason we've been able to get to where we are is purely based on the help we've got from the Holmes Center."
Today, with licensed technology from the University through the Venture Center, the two young entrepreneurs are developing a water filter product under their new company name, New Water. Although they're still juggling full-time jobs while working on their product concept, the two hope to make NewWater their permanent pursuit within the year.
"The goal of the class was to create companies like NewWater," says Bhawe. "They were probably the hardest working and most sincere students I've seen and their persistence is really paying off." (The students received an "A" grade for the project, by the way.)