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Texas A&M team at OPEN Minds Showcase

The energy was high Saturday night when a team of students learned they had taken the top prize at The OPEN Minds Showcase during the VentureWell OPEN 2018 conference in Austin, Texas, for their creation of a device that could bring light and electricity to millions of children around the world currently unable to study at night.

For the 10 students, the aftermath of the 48-hour design challenge hosted by Texas A&M University’s Engineering Entrepreneurship Program last month culminated in their winning first place and being awarded $3,000 for the continuation of their product.

“It was very hard,” she said. “We used candles to study. Since this is a problem I faced in my village, I wanted to solve this.”

EDU-Lite is a collaborative team comprised of five Texas A&M students and five students from the University of Technology in Yatanarpon, Cyber City, Myanmar. The teams were named first and second place winners, respectively, during Invent for the Planet, a 48-hour design challenge hosted by Texas A&M University’s Engineering Entrepreneurship Program last month. After Invent for the Planet winners were announced, Rodney Boehm, director of engineering entrepreneurship at Texas A&M, invited the team from Myanmar to College Station so the two teams could collaborate. It was the first time any of the students from Myanmar had ever left their country or flown in an airplane.

The team spent the past week collaborating on their designs. When combined, the two devices create an overall solution to the problem of extending education into the evening in areas without electricity. The Texas A&M students focused on creating an inexpensive and lightweight lighting platform, while the University of Technology in Myanmar students focused on creating a source of electricity modeled after a sewing machine treadle.

Students at chalkboardFor both teams, being able to work together all week and then win first place was unforgettable.

“I could not be more proud of these students. They bridged cultures to work extremely hard together to come up with an overall solution to this problem that affects millions of children around the world,” Boehm said. “To see their hard work and dedication pay off at the OPEN Minds Showcase was amazing.”

It was especially remarkable because EDU-Lite had some steep competition at the showcase.

“There were 13 teams in the competition,” Boehm said. “Each had tables that showed their products and prototypes. Most teams had been working on their solutions for nine to 12 months.”

Some teams already had products on the market or were very close to launching their product.

“The reason I believe they won is because this combined team demonstrated a very unique solution to a real need, and the story behind the team and the development was just so darn compelling,” Boehm said.

Almost every team member from Texas A&M and the University of Technology in Myanmar has personally experienced not having reliable access to electricity. In fact, about 55 percent of the entire population in Myanmar is without electricity. This drove each team even harder to find a solution to this problem.

Van Lar Ruat, a computer engineering student from Kale, Myanmar, said she grew up without electricity.

 Myanmar students wearing cowboy hatsFreshman Texas A&M engineering student An Nguyen said this problem hit close to home for her as her father grew up in Vietnam and had limited access to electricity. To study, she said he would place fireflies in an egg shell to create a small glow lamp.

Other teammates shared similar stories of hardship, which ultimately inspired them to solve this problem. Boehm said he hopes to see the teams continue to work together to bring this product to market.

“Now that both teams have met in person and have formed a bond of friendship, they are even more dedicated to taking their idea and setting it into motion with a business plan and strategy,” Boehm said. “For the millions of children without electricity in the world, this could have a huge impact for their education.”