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JRI Alumnus Mark Webb and partner Jacqueline Nguyen form Renewable Energy Company called Energant

on

 

JRI Alumnus Mark Webb attended JRI from between 2004 and 2007. During that time, he worked on a desalinating water pump – a pump intended to desalinate water at the same time as it was pressurized. The project centered around using solar thermal energy to desalinate water and at the same time move the water vertically, losslessly. The project eventually generated two publications and a patent application.

 

 

 

Seven years later, Mark is still innovating. Having graduated from Berkeley, Mark is keen to find out about and solve pressing real-life problems. He's launching his first company with co-founder Jacqueline Nguyen, also a Berkeley grad. Together they've created Energant, a company dedicated to bringing cleaner cooking to kitchens and homes around the world. Recently, Mark took some time from the launch of his Indigogo campaign to answer a few questions for JRI.

  1. When were you a student at JRI?

I was a student from 2004 – 2007.

  1. Do you remember what your project was? How did it end up?

I worked on a solar desalinating water pump. It ended up working very well – it was a very exciting project. We ended up getting two publications and ... we attended two conferences – one in Italy and one in Japan.

  1. What skills did you learn while you were at JRI and how have these translated to things that you deploy now in your professional life?

It was the first time I learned how to formally do scientific research. I learned discrete mathematics through the program and prototype design, fabrication, and implementation. I also learned thermodynamics, specifically vapor-phase thermodynamics. These definitely formed the basis of a lot of the things I do, specifically related to product design [and] testing.

  1. Can you tell me about what you’re doing now with Energant?

We’re focused right now on solving the issue of indoor air pollution and solid waste disposal. We are implementing Energant’s primary cook stove/combustion apparatus technology toward this end. The core technology allows for combustion of mixed biomass and solid, household waste as a clean-burning fuel source.

  1. How did you come up with the idea for the KleanCook?

I was on a backpacking trip through the Southwest United States with a friend of mine and I wanted a hot shower. That idea and the use of thermoelectrics eventually led to a completely different product that is now KleanCook.

  1. I understand that this company has already won a number of awards. Can you tell us about that?

We’re very honored to have that kind of recognition. It’s so encouraging to know that people support you along such a challenging, yet rewarding, journey. We were the Grand Prize Winners and People’s Choice Award winners of the Pitch Competition hosted by UC Berkeley’s ENvision, a campus entrepreneurship club. We were selected to attend Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) this past spring and became 2014 Commitment Makers last spring. Commitment Makers are select project leaders from around the world that have the responsibility to carry out their goal, or “commitment”, within a year. Our goal was to deliver 10 W of electricity to 10 different families in the Philippines through our pilot study, which we are doing right now. Within CGIU we also won the Social Venture Competition hosted by The Resolution Project. We won access to partner resources, mentors, and some seed funding. That spring we also won Honorable Mention at Big IDeas@Berkeley, the official social venture competition on campus, where we also won some seed funding and a valuable campus support group. Just this past weekend we were finalists at TechCon 2014, hosted by USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) and UC Berkeley’s Development Impact Lab (DIL). It was a great conference where we presented our product to all kinds of people involved in international development, from graduate students to professors to USAID mission leaders. We learned a lot from exposure in that kind of environment.

  1. Is the company tightly associated with UC Berkeley?

We are not formally affiliated with UC Berkeley. We are affiliated by the fact that our springboard was UC Berkeley’s resources. Their faculty are engaging beyond the formal period of contact, such as contests. They always welcome our visits, casual chats, and request for advice. So, by paper we are very loosely associated; however, by personal interaction with the faculty, we are tightly connected. Also, my co-founder is a student at UC Berkeley, so we have access to those resources.

  1. What are you hoping to accomplish with the company and its technologies?

Our goal is to have 100,000 units distributed by 2018. Energant will improve the lives of people in developing countries by reducing smoke-related illnesses [which kill millions of people a year], solid waste, carbon dioxide emissions, and deforestation.

  1.  

    This sounds like a very exciting project for an entrepreneur and engineer! Can you tell us what part of the company building process you have found most appealing or exciting? Can you also tell us what part of the process is the biggest drag?

[The] most appealing and exciting [part] is being able to design something in 3D CAD rendering and on the whiteboard, procuring the components, and then seeing it built in real life ... and then seeing it work just as predicted. That’s the most exciting thing for me. The drag would be dealing with social media and other marketing aspects [as well as] having to suddenly forego my privacy and be in the public spotlight.

  1. What does it feel like to see your technology in someone else’s hands and functioning in a way that improves their quality of life?

It’s tremendously rewarding and at the same time, [it] sometimes seems unreal. Words just can’t simply describe [it].

  1. What advice would you give to JRI students and prospective students now that you're past the educational phase of your career?

I would say, don't be afraid to try things out. Don't limit yourself – apply to things, get your name out there, [and] make things happen when you are young. You live in one of the wealthiest and most opportune places on the planet. Make your dream happen and don't waste any time.

Thank you, Mark.

     We wish Mark, Jacqueline, and their new company, Energant, success in the years to come. Energant's first product, the KleenKook, debuted earlier this year. The K2 will be available early in 2015.

 

 

 

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