Entrepreneurial Students Win Funding and Cash Prizes at 2023 New Venture Competition

April 20, 2023

Lingchen Kong, Professor Xitong Li, and Dean Anuj Mehrotra

As the demand rapidly increases for electric vehicles and devices, so too does demand for rechargeable batteries, which often come from lithium-ion sources. The issue is that lithium-ion batteries contain toxic metals that can contaminate water supplies and ecosystems should they be disposed of improperly.  

George Washington University engineering Ph.D. student Lingchen Kong and his faculty member, School of Engineering and Applied Science Professor Xitong Liu, have unearthed an environmentally conscious solution while meeting the future lithium demand.

Their company, Ellexco, offers a chemical-free, electricity-technology to convert geothermal brine to lithium hydroxide, which would lower the carbon footprint.

“We are confident that we can promote this technology and explore more lithium sources, and our goal is to make lithium extraction much more cost effective and much more environmentally friendly,” Kong said.

They received a big boost in that mission Thursday night. The pair took home two top honors totaling $20,000 at the 2023 New Venture Competition awards ceremony at Jack Morton Auditorium.  Ellexco’s co-founders won the Business Goods and Services Track and the CirrusLabs Prize for Best Tech Venture, each $10,000 awards.

Four other startup groups won $17,500 for their ventures pitched at the GW Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship annual flagship event. Since it was first held in 2009, the NVC has turned into one of the nation’s top student entrepreneurship competitions. 

In the 2023 competition, 417 participants spread across 161 teams participated, and judges awarded $357,200 in prizes, including $163,000 in cash to winners. Twelve finalists, who all received a minimum of $5,000, across four tracks gave an elevator pitch Thursday night after advancing past the first two rounds of competition. In total, participants represented nine of the 10 GW schools, making for a diverse range of innovative startup solutions noted by GW President Mark S. Wrighton.

“If this is an indication of the next generation of problem solvers, then we are all in good hands,” Wrighton said. “It is extraordinarily impressive to hear about the diverse set of new businesses.” 

This year’s competition included several major changes reflecting OIE’s inclusionary mission to make entrepreneurship more accessible and relevant to students. In addition to the four tracks that had presentations Thursday—which included the Business Goods and Services, Social Innovation, Consumer Goods and Services and Healthcare and Life Sciences Tracks—a new track made its debut at the competition this year for students who had yet to gain experience with innovation and entrepreneurship program but were curious to learn. The Explorer Track, sponsored by GW alumnus Shaya Reiter, B.S. ’93, and his wife Mandy Reiter, offered smaller cash prizes and an automatic bye to round 2 of next year’s NVC to finalists. Eleven groups testing the entrepreneurial waters for the first time advanced to the final round.

Read the full article on GW Today.