EWMBA Venture Pyro-E Takes $100,000 Prize in DOE Competition

A way to turn tailpipe exhaust into usable electricity garnered $100,000 for two Berkeley MBA students and their teammate at First Look West (FLoW), a national clean energy business challenge developed by the Department of Energy.

Phani Meduri and Sam Gharib, both MBA 15, students in the Evening & Weekend MBA Program, teamed with Meduri’s former PhD classmate Kevin Lu on their venture, which placed first in the FLoW regional finals May 7 at USC. Their Pyro-E device converts waste heat from fuel cell servers, industrial furnaces, and automobile exhaust into electricity, resulting in greater efficiency and reduced fuel costs. “The U.S. market represents a roughly $32 billion opportunity in the form of wasted energy recapture,” says Gharib of the team’s aim to reduce dependency on foreign oil.

Lu developed Pyro-E and joined forces with Meduri–manager of sytems, modeling, and performance testing for AREVA Solar–to commercialize the technology. Meduri, who earned a PhD in mechical engineering at UCLA, brought in Haas classmate Gharib, director of finance at Talon Therapeutics, for finance and operations expertise.

One of the reasons we were attracted to Berkeley-Haas was that it represented one of the leading centers for the study and practice of entrepreneurship,” says Gharib (top photo). “Phani and I have been able to leverage the resources of the Lester Center, including participation in the UC Berkeley Startup Competition and the Venture Capital Investment Competition.” Adds Meduri (lower photo), “Even though we did not win in the Startup Competition, we learned a lot and got feedback that we then incorporated into our FLoW presentation.”

Pyro-E’s win in the regional competition means the team will compete in the final national event in Washington, D.C., from June 11 to June 13, and the team says they feel well prepared. “We've been able to connect with prominent entrepreneurs and VCs in the Bay Area,” says Gharib, “and the Haas curriculum has really given us the toolkit to understand the dynamics of our market, identify and target a specific customer base, and craft a compelling customer value proposition.”