Engineering students Matt Hudson and Eric Schaupp are turning a school project into technology that can help 1.6 billion people around the world who lack electricity.
They created a power generator that can run on any fuel source, unlike most generators that require either kerosene, diesel, or gas. As an added bonus, their TesGen generator is lightweight but just as powerful as a traditional generator.
“There are a lot of different competitors on the market that sell their products for emergency back-up power or for taking to their cabin, but every single one of those competitors uses a single fuel source,” notes Hudson. “Using two unique technologies, we’ve developed a way to use multiple fuels. It has an application in the United States but also worldwide.”
The generator can be used to provide lighting, power an entire house, or charge devices like cell phones, laptops, or computers for people who live without electricity.
Hudson’s and Schaupp’s plan for TesGen includes developing a beta prototype and then licensing their technology to generator manufacturers to bring it to market. Another option is to distribute the generators by teaming with a nonprofit that has an international focus.
TesGen doesn’t have a patent on its technology yet, but the partners are pursuing one.
“The biggest thing about our idea is it’s truly innovative,” Schaupp says. “It’s not just a widget or a gadget—it has the potential to help people all around the world and increase their standard of living.”
The market potential isn’t bad either: In 2012, there will be $640 million in sales of residential portable power generators in the United States, and that figure is expected to hit $1 billion in 2015. Worldwide, 9.3 million residential generators were sold in 2009, and the number is expected to climb to 13 million by 2014, according to a study by Market Research Group.
Schaupp and Hudson are both seniors at Iron Range Engineering in Virginia, a joint program of Mesabi Range Community & Technical College, Itasca Community College, and Minnesota State University, Mankato.
For a spring 2011 class project, they were tasked to develop a green energy idea for class.
The pair pored over magazine and journal articles, looking for inspiration.
After reading about their two technologies in separate articles, they decided to create a way to bring them together and take advantage of the greater power they generated.
“The idea just clicked,” says Hudson. “We could provide these two technologies and make more power for the same amount of fuel consumed.”
After the class project ended, Hudson and Schaupp continued developing the concept over the summer, creating their first prototype and proof of concept.
They conducted research, design, and testing to show that portable power generation is feasible with a device that is fuel-agnostic.
Next, the partners wrote a business plan and entered the Minnesota Cup.
Delving into the sales and marketing aspects of TesGen certainly was a challenge for the more engineering-focused students. But it’s something they decided to pursue because they strongly believe in the potential of the product.
Despite the challenges, Schaupp and Hudson are glad they continued developing their generator and stuck with the Minnesota Cup competition.
It’s been invaluable to learn how to communicate technical ideas to a lay audience, Hudson says, and the two also appreciate the exposure they gained to members of the business and venture capital community.
“We thought we had innovative technology, but the people in business and venture capital actually saw the potential of our product, too,” says Schaupp, who is thinking about pursuing an entrepreneurial career.
“It was a beneficial learning experience for this company or another start-up—it’s something I’ll never forget.”