ECE student becomes youngest in Techstars Chicago Accelerator

ECE News

Zack Fishman, ISE
9/4/2018 4:59:04 PM

Story Highlights

The Optivolt Labs team, from left to right: Daniel Kofman, Jayson Dombele, Paul Couston, Rohit Kalyanpur, Plengrapin Buason.
The Optivolt Labs team, from left to right: Daniel Kofman, Jayson Dombele, Paul Couston, Rohit Kalyanpur, Plengrapin Buason.
In the summer of 2017, ECE ILLINOIS junior Rohit Kalyanpur and ISE student Paul Couston founded Optivolt Labs. Using the funding and lab space provided by the iVenture Accelerator, a university-run seed investment program, they developed and released a case that converted both indoor and outdoor light into a longer battery life for cell phones. After a turbulent year of roadblocks and opportunities, they are now moving their business in the direction of improving battery life in drones.

Couston notes some issues in their initial business strategy. "We were a startup trying to get into an extremely saturated marketplace," he says. "We had a product that was new and innovative, but also significantly more expensive than other phone cases."

Other challenges soon arose, such as educating customers on how solar power works and handling the various legal troubles of bringing a new product to market. Striving to keep their business alive, the pair applied to 15 accelerator programs and faced rejections from all but the last, Techstars Chicago. After receiving $120,000 in seed funding and joining a vast network of entrepreneurs, Optivolt Labs applied their effective solar-to-battery conversion technology to drones.

By adding solar panels to drones, the pair of innovators have been able to significantly improve their effective flight time while also adding the capability to recharge after landing on a sunny day. They are currently developing technology to push these improvements even further.

Today, Optivolt Labs employs three other engineers full-time and is actively working to find their place in the drone industry. For Couston and Kalyanpur, the youngest-ever founders at Techstars Chicago, that means coordinating the engineering efforts, determining a market strategy, and raising the next round of capital.

Read the original article on the ISE site. 

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