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Pulse Utility team members

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa student-led project that may help to expedite the completion of the Honolulu rail project earned a prize package totaling more than $33,000. New startup company Pulse Utility won the UH Venture Competition (UHVC), hosted by the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship (PACE) in the Shidler College of Business.

Led by Craig Opie, a UH Mānoa information and computer sciences undergraduate student, Pulse Utility aims to assist the rail project with locating underground utilities along the rail line, a job that has added major costs and time to the project. Pulse Utility uses ground penetrating radar, a safe and non-invasive technology, to locate all buried infrastructure. Opie said the team plans to finish its data collection and present its solution to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation with the goal for a potential contract.

“This entire competition has been a lot of work and dedication by all of our team members, and it feels amazing to know that our hard work has paid off,” Opie said. “We are excited to provide our solution, which reduces time and money in the search and permitting process for buried utilities.”

logo that says Pulse Utility

Pulse Utility was one of three finalists which presented to a group of judges at the venture competition’s final virtual event on May 5. View the event on PACE’s YouTube channel. Pulse Utility’s prize package includes $10,000 from American Savings Bank, professional services by Vantage Counsel LLC, Pineapple Tweed, Blue Logic Labs and Business Consulting Resources, and coworking space at The Hub Coworking Hawaii.

Pulse Utility’s team includes Opie, Yosef Ben Gershom, a UH Mānoa Hawaiʻi Space Flight Laboratory mechanical engineer and UH Mānoa executive MBA student; Anthony Lopez, a UH Mānoa electrical engineering student; Josh O’Neill, a Honolulu Community College computing, security, and networking technology student; and Isaac Rodrigues, co-owner of Death Star Development, LLC and a senior-level electrical engineer. Pulse Utility also won the spring 2021 Innovation Impact Challenge hosted by the UH Office of Innovation and Commercialization (OIC), receiving $15,000 in funding from OIC and Hawaiian Telcom.

Other finalists

Nimbus AI won second place and a prize package totaling nearly $20,000. The project, led by UH Mānoa computer science student Kyle Hart, uses machine learning to allow solar power grid managers to make quick decisions based on cloud cover forecasts.

Polū Energy, led by UH Mānoa law and business student Tate Castillo, took third place totaling nearly $10,000, including a $2,500 cash prize sponsored by HiBEAM in honor of pioneer Billy Richardson. The project centers on renewable ocean energy technology that balances wind and solar while making seawater desalination cheaper and cleaner.

“We are delighted with the hard work and persistence of all the teams throughout the competition season,” PACE Executive Director Peter Rowan said. “Despite the challenges of conducting the entire program online, we are very happy with the reach and impact this year. The quality of the competition was very high throughout every round and the results were excellent.”

Wild card round

For the first time in the 21-year history of the UHVC, the public was invited to view the competition and actively participate. Five semi-finalists were invited to deliver a short presentation during the competition’s wild card round for a chance at a $500 cash prize sponsored by ProService Hawaii voted by the audience. The winner was Kahu Bot, a project consisting of an autonomous robot capable of detecting its surroundings while spraying disinfectant at a height of three feet.

Outstanding student entrepreneur

Student posing for a photo at UH Campus Center
UH Mānoa student Nathan Bek markets products from his family business called Green Dream. (Photo credit: Nathan Bek)

Rowan presented Nathan Bek with PACE’s outstanding student entrepreneur of the year award. The junior finance and journalism major served in several roles, including Calvin Shindo Student Venture Fund student chair, Hawaiʻi Student Entrepreneurs president, a Ka Leo O Hawaiʻi writer, Hawaii Business Magazine intern, CEO of Lucy’s Lab Creamery and CEO of Green Dream, a family business in Waiʻanae.

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This event is an example of UH Mānoa’s goals of Enhancing Student Success (PDF) and Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), two of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

—By Marc Arakaki

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