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Device for the visually impaired wins 2019 Koch Innovation Challenge

May 13, 2019

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The votes have been tallied, the judges have spoken, and there’s a new Koch Innovation Challenge Grand Champion for 2019.

In Friday’s final pitch competition (May 10) at Wichita State University, members of Team Water Level Sensor Buddy (Cierra O’Neill, Edie Reese, Jedidiah Borchard and Tyler Thompson) claimed the title of Grand Champion over four other finalist teams with their invention – an all-mechanical, magnet-based tool for the visually impaired to help measure fluid levels when filling up water bottles or drinking glasses. 

The win makes Team Water Level Sensor Buddy the third Grand Champion of the Koch-supported innovation competition since it began three years ago. In 2017, the Out Cold pillow, a customizable pillow with air chambers, earned top honors. And the Swiftcan, a bottom-loaded trashcan with air vents, took the title in 2018.

To help this year’s competitors prepare for the finals, leaders from two different Koch companies – Jason Illian, entrepreneur and investor with Koch Disruptive Technologies and Nadine Dytko-Madsen, global project engineer with Molex – sat down with the five finalist teams back in March to provide constructive feedback and recommendations for improvement ahead of the final competition.

These sessions became filmed pitch videos for the online portion of the competition, where viewers could vote for their favorite team innovation. This year’s winner of the online vote, Team AquaGreen Hydroelectric Energy (Jennifer Alfaro, Kenny Do, Phillip Espinoza, Zachary Keitel, Matthew Minter and Alexandro Morales), earned the People’s Choice Award and an extra judge’s vote in the finals for developing a device to capture electrical energy from industrial water usage. 

As the Grand Champion, Team Water Level Sensor Buddy will now advance to compete in a national innovation competition this fall.

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    Team Water Level Sensor Buddy, also pictured with Dean Skinner, was crowned the overall Grand Champion by a panel of judges for winning the final pitch competition of the Koch Innovation Challenge.

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    A polished prototype of the Water Level Sensor Buddy, a device that helps the visually impaired measure water levels using a mechanical, magnet-based design.

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    Team AquaGreen – pictured here with Dr. Steven Skinner, associate dean for Undergraduate Studies, Finance and Administration at Wichita State University – earned the People’s Choice Award.

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    Members of Team AquaGreen Hydroelectric Energy demonstrate their device for capturing electric energy from industrial water usage to judges at the final competition.