Student Entrepreneurship Competition (Discovery Competition)

With the goal of promoting new and innovative discoveries to solve challenges or needs, the McKelvey School of Engineering created the Discovery Competition in 2012. This special opportunity provides engineering undergraduate students the forum to explore their entrepreneurial interests with support from mentors, to use their creativity to develop solutions for real-world problems and to compete for financial resources that could help turn their ideas into businesses.

  • The Discovery Competition is an annual experience for WashU undergraduate students.
  • The competition includes multiple rounds held during the fall and spring semesters.
  • At least $25,000 will be awarded to the winning team(s) each spring semester so the competition winner(s) can continue developing prototypes and ventures.
  • The competition is fully funded by alumni donors.
  • Students interact with mentors, advisers, judges and other students through several events.

2017 Teams

A Team

Amber Ingram

Idea: Create a less expensive and more practical method of desalination. Currently methods such as reverse osmosis or solar evaporation or vapor pressure. These methods are often very expansive, and not the most efficient for continuous use for making fresh water in mass production.

CyberPowered Home

Will Blanchard, Allen Nikka

Idea: Smart-Grid/Smart-home device to manage electric energy usage in the home and provide smart-home functionality. We have estimated that this device could save homeowners as much as 25% on electrical energy use, allowing for payback on product price in under 2 years for our optimal market. In addition, this product will provide homeowners the ability to enjoy smart home functionality while also helping electric utilities manage increasingly complex grids.


Christian Shewmake, Kenny Kim, Teja Vallapuri

Idea: SomniScan, a medical device startup based out of Washington University in St. Louis, is revolutionizing sleep diagnostics by developing a low-cost, over-the-counter (OTC) sleep screening system which can detect the presence of multiple sleep disorders overnight, especially targeting sleep apnea (SA). We are a team of senior engineering students with experience ranging from biomedical signal processing, software development, hardware design, and clinical use of medical devices. Additionally, we are seeking new members with complementary backgrounds in areas such as iOS/Android app development and product usability design. Currently, over 40 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder. Primary among these conditions are Sleep Apnea (~24 million), Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (~23.93 million), Restless Legs Syndrome (~20 million), and Insomnia (~19.13million). Most surprising is the proportion of patients who remain undiagnosed, ranging from 50% to 80% (sleep apnea the latter) [American Sleep Apnea Association]. This startlingly under-diagnosed portion faces a high barrier-to-access formed by prohibitive monetary and convenience costs—including a $1,000-$4,000 bill for an overnight, in-hospital sleep study via polysomnogram (PSG) or $300-$600 for a prescription, in home, and less robust sleep device. In both cases, testing requires a previous doctor’s visit for insurance clearance, prescription, and/or referral. Our primary goal is to make accurate, personal sleep statistics accessible to most any consumer. There is a huge opportunity to grow the entire sleep diagnostic/screening market by focusing on developing a relatively inexpensive technology to be used by consumers, in their own homes, without having to go through a doctor. As such, we are developing an affordable, high-accuracy prototype of an OTC sleep disorder screening tool. Ideally, reliable screening for a host of common sleep disorders would require only a smartphone, a trip to a 24-hour Walgreens/CVS, a$40-$80 purchase, and a comfortable night’s sleep in one’s own home--including both a patient friendly and a physician-ready formatted report if one decides to seek further care.

Project Starfish

Caleb Ji, John Bisognano, Elizabeth Bowman

Idea: Project Starfish is developing a medical device to reduce Catheter Associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTIs) for patients who use urinary catheters. CAUTIs are consistently sited as the largest healthcare challenge resulting from urinary catheter use.