May 07, 2012

Engineering student shines at high-powered entrepreneurship boot camp

Posted: May 07, 2012
ASU student at E-Bootcamp
Arizona State University chemical engineering major Lindsay Fleming (left) posed with fellow attendees at E-Bootcamp, a prominent international student entrepreneurship conference at Stanford University. She’s with (left to right) Sanjay Rajpoot from University of Southern California, and Alberto Colombo and Elton Cheung from Northwestern University. (The sculpture is “Digital DNA,” by Adriana Varella and Nilton Malz, a seven- foot-tall egg-shaped sculpture made of steel and silicon computer circuit boards in Palo Alto, Calif., near the Stanford campus.)
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Think of it like this: You’re part of a small, fledgling advertising agency that has promising talent but not a great amount of experience or a long track record.

Then there’s a surprise call from a major international corporation inviting your agency to make a pitch for their advertising business.

But your company can send only one representative. And, oh, one other thing, can you get your presentation ready to go in just a few days?

That’s close to the kind of situation ASU student Lindsay Fleming felt like she was in several weeks ago.

She was shocked when she received word of approval of her “spur of the moment” application to be her team’s pitcher at E-Bootcamp at Stanford University, a high-powered conference, workshop series and competition for leaders of promising entrepreneurial ventures being birthed by college students.

Fleming, a chemical engineering major in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is one of the founders of SafeSIPP (Sustainable Innovative Portable Purification), along with fellow chemical engineering students Jared Schoepf and Taylor Barker, and marketing and finance major Jacob Arredondo.

Their venture, which evolved through ASU’s Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program, is developing a product called PureRoll. It’s a 30-gallon barrel equipped with a three-phase water-filtration system and a handle so it can be easily pulled over varied terrain – and 80 percent of it can be made from recycled materials.

It’s been designed with places like South Africa in mind, where villagers far from modernized urban areas must haul water manually across long distances – water that is often contaminated and becomes a source of illness and other health problems.

Besides helping to provide clean water, PureRoll is expected to double the amount of water individuals can haul at one time and greatly reduce the time needed to make the trip.

SafeSIPP is also establishing a micro-financing platform designed to enable people to purchase the barrels through a low-cost installment plan and then sell the additional purified water they can more easily obtain and transport through use of PureRoll. SafeSIPP’s members estimate the additional revenues villagers could generate might increase their annual incomes by as much as 25 percent.

Last fall, SafeSIPP’s idea won $2,000 in support from Intel Corp. as the grand prize in a competition among EPICS teams. Earlier this year, SafeSIPP was awarded $3,000 as one of the winners in ASU’s Innovation Challenge and $1,500 from Intel in another EPICS competition. Most recently the team earned $950 in startup support from General Dynamics Corporation.

The team also has begun working with the My Arms Wide Open Foundation, which supports efforts to establish sustainable communities and businesses in South Africa.

Despite that progress, the team had little expectation of getting an E-Bootcamp invitation. When she received the notification, Fleming recalls, “I had one of those ‘Am I dreaming?’ moments.”

Before long she was one of 100 college students from throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, South America and elsewhere gathering with prominent entrepreneurs, successful business investment and startup experts, venture capitalists and corporate leaders.

The four-day day event in April – organized by the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students and the Business Today media group, based at Princeton University – lived up to its name as a boot camp.

Fleming says she was able to get no more than three to four hours of rest each night in between workshops, meetings, presentations and the preparations for the business-pitch competition.

Facing panels of experts, students had to explain the business strategies behind their projects and extol the societal value of their ventures’ goals.

After two rounds of pitches, Fleming got another surprise: She was one of only 15 E-Bootcamp students to move onto the final round.

“Some of the other students and their partners have been working on their projects for a few years, SafeSipp was just an idea only nine months ago, so I never expected to get that far,” she says.

She didn’t make it to the final five and win an opportunity to pitch at another elite student entrepreneur event called DEMO Day. But E-Bootcamp was “the experience of lifetime,” Fleming says. “You come back full of ideas and energy. I feel uplifted knowing I could hang in there with that crowd of amazing students.”

The SafeSIPP team plans a trip to South Africa in the fall to pilot-test PureRoll and get feedback on the effectiveness of the product’s design. The team hopes to also begin collaborating with local communities in Africa on plans to establish local manufacturing of the device.

Fleming says she’ll apply lessons she learned at E-Bootcamp about product development, business legalities and cultural relations to SafeSIPP’s efforts.

More than that, connections she made at the event with experienced entrepreneurs and investors might provide the project some valuable mentorship and a step to more financial support.

“Our whole team is stoked,” she says.

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Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering