ECE-Led Team Wins ITEC $50K New Venture Competition

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RayVio, a project team headed by Yitao Liao (ECE, PhD '10) (left), placed first in the Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (ITEC) 11th Annual K New Venture Competition. (Image courtesy of ITEC)
RayVio, a project team headed by Yitao Liao (ECE, PhD '10), placed first in the Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (ITEC) 11th Annual $50K New Venture Competition. Pictured are Peter Russo, executive-in-residence and director of entrepreneurship programs at ITEC; RayVio team member Milan Minsky; and Beth Goldstein, director of the Competition (Image courtesy of ITEC.)

Novel Water Disinfection Technology Could Have Global Impact

RayVio, a project team headed by Yitao Liao (ECE, PhD’10), placed first in the Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (ITEC) 11th Annual $50K New Venture Competition. The team has developed revolutionary ultraviolet (UV) light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that provide a low-cost, durable and energy-efficient substitute for mercury lamps in the water purification and disinfection market.

Competing against other finalists from the BU School of Management and School of Public Health on the strength of their business plan and ability to communicate its goals, Liao and his teammates—Professor Theodore Moustakas (ECE, MSE), his PhD advisor; Chen-kai Kao, a senior PhD student in Moustakas’s lab; Simon Den Uijl, a 2010 visiting fellow at Boston University’s Technology Development Office from the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands; and Milan Minsky, an MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management—received top honors for three reasons.

“They identified a big opportunity with a compelling value proposition, assembled a very strong team with good domain expertise, and did a good job of articulating their plan to address the opportunity, both in their business plan and presentation,” said Peter R. Russo, executive-in-residence and director of entrepreneurship programs at ITEC.

Initiated by Liao to seek commercialization of the UV-LEDs he developed for his PhD research under Moustakas’s guidance, RayVio exploits a material growth process called molecular beam epitaxy that significantly improves the efficiency and power output of currently available UV-LEDs. Consisting of nitride semiconductor thin films deposited onto sapphire substrates, and emitting UV radiation when subject to electric current, RayVio’s UV-LEDs are compact, energy-efficient, durable and environmentally friendly—characteristics that make them an attractive alternative to the standard, mercury-based UV lamps used in municipal water treatment facilities since the late 1970s.

“The lamps suffer from short lifetime (under 5000 hours), contain mercury and produce unstable power output,” said Liao. “The massive replacement of UV-lamps by UV-LEDs will reduce energy consumption, reduce and eliminate a major environmental hazard, improve the effectiveness of UV water disinfection by increasing the power density of the UV light source, and enable portable water disinfection for developing countries where centralized water treatment facilities are not available.”

The UV-LEDs could also be used for the disinfection of air or food, treatment of psoriasis and industrial curing.

The second place team in the $50K Competition, Twister Grips, offered an innovative solution to reduce chronic injuries from cycling while increasing bicyclists’ comfort and performance for bicyclists, and the third place team, ACCEasy, presented a new small business accounting software platform. In addition to competing for prizes worth over $50,000, finalists received mentoring and advice from startup veterans, as well as the opportunity to expand their network and connect with potential funding sources.

Liao’s team is now working with the Office of Technology Development to explore commercialization paths for their technology, which previously received funding under a cooperative agreement between the BU Photonics Center and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. Sustaining the effort is an abiding motivation to improve the quality of life in both resource-limited and resource-rich countries.

“I decided to pursue this project out of the belief that such technology will have an impact on society, bringing clean water to people with the least energy footprint and negative impacts on the environment,” said Liao.

-Mark Dwortzan