College of Engineering honors University students

By Daily Illini Staff Report

Four University students were announced as finalists for the Illinois Innovation Prize on April 19.

The University’s Technology Entrepreneur Center and College of Engineering chose these students based on their passion and creativity as innovators and entrepreneurs, according to a press release.

Two Ph.D. candidates are finalists: Bilge Acun in computer science and Olaoluwapo Ajala in electrical and computer engineering. Lucas Frye is a master’s candidate.

Daniel Gardner, senior in electrical engineering, said in an email he was ecstatic to become one of the finalists.

“I was humbled as soon as I read about the accomplishments of the other finalists, and honored to be their peer,” Gardner wrote.

Gardner is the co-founder and CEO of Mesh++. The startup uses low-cost Wi-Fi transceivers in developing countries and provides an affordable wireless connection.

“I believe the lack of stable communication is the primary barrier to future success in developing countries,” Gardner wrote. “By creating flexible, solar-powered networks, Mesh++ can bring the online resources we rely on every day all around the world.”

The student chosen as the winner is entrepreneurially minded, a passionate innovator, works with world changing technology and serves as a role model to others, according to the Technology Entrepreneur Center’s website. The winner will receive up to $20,000.

The four finalists received $20,000, which was distributed among them. These students may also participate in the Cozad New Venture Competition to compete for additional prizes with their ideas.

The winner will be announced at the Entrepreneurship Forum at the Illini Union on April 26.

Gardner encourages other students to take advantage of the University’s resources and is grateful for help provided by iVenture and University professors.

“As an engineering student with no idea how to turn an idea into an impact, I cannot imagine how difficult this would be without the support from the University,” Gardner wrote. “A lot of people talk about developing a business one day – no. Do it now.”

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