OIST green-tech startup accelerates to victory!

Cutting-edge science and industry are combined in award-winning entrepreneurial teams, boosted by Okinawa's first global startup accelerator program.

In an extraordinary accomplishment, EF Polymer – a team of OIST entrepreneurs from India – emerged as the Carbon Tech champions in the prestigious, green-tech competition, Climate Launchpad.

Guided by OIST mentors, EF Polymer beat out a record number of 2,601 entrepreneurs in the regional and national stages to reach the Global Grand Final. This two-day event was held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on November 14-15th, with 16 of the most promising and innovative startup companies from around the world pitching their green technology ideas. EF Polymer triumphed in the Carbon Tech theme, receiving a substantial €5000 in prize money.

“Winning the award was an incredible and surreal moment for us,” said CEO and founder, Narayan Gurjar. “It felt crazy because there were so many teams competing from over 50 countries, and every team had amazing ideas.”

EF Polymer wins Carbon Tech award at the global grand finale of Climate Launchpad.

The Climate Launchpad competition has an ambitious goal – to help startups develop green, sustainable solutions that fix issues caused by climate change.

At the event, EF polymer pitched their idea for an “Eco-Friendly Water Retention Natural Polymer”, which can be used to combat water scarcity in agriculture.

The polymer, which is made from natural organic material, can easily retain large quantities of water. When added to soil, this can reduce the amount of water needed to irrigate crops as the polymer then slowly releases water into the soil over a period of weeks. The team uses waste organic matter mixed with a gel to create the polymer, which means that it’s cheaper than alternative superabsorbent polymers, whilst also being pollution-free and 100% biodegradable. As an added bonus, the polymer also acts as a fertilizer for the plants after breaking down.

The eco-friendly polymer can be added to soil, where it retains large quantities of water. This reduces the amount of water needed to irrigate crops.

“In India, water scarcity is an enormous problem, with 11 states affected by drought, including our own state of Rajasthan,” said Puran Rajput, co-founder and COO. “That’s what first inspired Narayan to create a startup aimed at designing a product that could effectively tackle this problem.”

Out of the five team members, consisting of Narayan’s childhood and college friends, two individuals – Narayan and Puran – are currently enrolled on the OIST Innovation Square (I2) Startup Accelerator Program.

“Without the startup accelerator program, winning this award would never have been possible,” said Narayan. “OIST gave us experience in pitching, guided us through the process and funded all our expenses. For that, we are incredibly thankful.”

The I2 Startup Accelerator Program Experience

The OIST I2 Startup Accelerator Program welcomed EF Polymer from India in July 2019, along with Lev Ovchinnikov from Russia. Both teams will be spending a year living in Okinawa and incubating their startup in the Technology Development and Innovation Centre (TDIC) at OIST.

While on the program, Lev is working on developing and marketing a prototype that can measure the temperature inside a human body in a non-invasive manner. The device, known as a radiothermometer, can detect microwave radiation emitted from the internal tissues of an individual and works up to a depth of seven centimeters. The device has applications in disease, such as finding temperature hotspots in the body that could correlate to tumors or stroke.

The radiothermometer device (prototype shown on left) uses microwave radiation to scan areas of the body, such as the breast (scan on right) to determine the internal temperature.

“I started working on this prototype several years ago with my professor in Russia, but unfortunately development was suspended,” said Lev. “Coming to OIST has given me a second chance to finish my research and build this device.”

As part of the live-in residency program, both project teams receive funding, mentorship and access to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities for research and development. 

“Thanks to the Okinawa Prefectural Government, which is a key partner and founding sponsor, the I2 Startup Accelerator Program is able to offer a really rich, unique experience to our entrepreneurs,” said Lauren Ha, Associate Vice President of TDIC. “We are able to provide teams with all the resources they need – not only the funding for research, but also the facilities, equipment and network to launch their startup.”

“OIST has helped me to foster connections with relevant people in both the entrepreneurial and academic world,” said Lev. “It has also given me access to the Japanese market, on a prefectural and national scale.”

“The campus is also an incredible place to work, located in the middle of the rainforest and surrounded by an ocean with coral reefs,” added Ha.

Both project teams hope to continue working in Okinawa after the residency program is over. Lev is currently exploring the potential of carrying out clinical trials in Okinawan hospitals, while EF Polymer is connecting with Japanese investors to continue R&D on the island.

Applying for the I2 Startup Accelerator Program

Every year, OIST selects driven and talented entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world to participate in the I2 Startup Accelerator Program, leveraging the resources, connections and equipment to allow teams to launch their ventures here in Okinawa. By promoting innovation through science and technology, OIST hopes to create a sustainable economic future for the region.

Applications for the 2020 I2 Startup Accelerator Program are open now.

For press enquiries, please contact media@oist.jp

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