VentureWell names BuzzButton team early-stage student innovators

Brown materials engineering concentrator Eli Silvert ’20.5 is one of three venture co-founders developing a device that harvests energy from cyclic translational motions. The venture, BuzzButton, has been named an early-stage student innovator team, Stage One, in the summer 2020 VentureWell E-Team grant program. Silvert, Sebastian Sheng, a 2020 graduate of the master’s program in innovation management and entrepreneurship (PRIME), and Sai Allu ’21 (economics and biology) are co-founders, and Tyler Jacobson ’22 (mechanical engineering) is central to the engineering efforts. The team also consists of two students from Boston University, Tess Ravick and Debarshi Basak. BuzzButton is one of 24 teams selected through a competitive national review process, chosen based on the potential for their innovation or invention to have a significant positive social, health or environmental impact.

BuzzButton’s goal is to bring low-cost, portable energy generation, storage, and charging capability to people’s fingertips, so that they do not have to rely on the electricity grid for charging consumer electronics. Target end users consist of the one billion people living off-grid worldwide, 1.3 million active-duty personnel in the Peace Corps and the U.S. Armed Forces, and outdoor travelers such as backpackers. The device, which combines a multiphase axial induction generator with the age-old button spinner toy, can be powered by human hands, or configured to harness energy from ocean waves and wind. When optimized, the 2-pound device has the potential to generate power at a rate of 210W – which would provide enough energy required for a full iPhone 11 charge in four minutes.

The venture was inspired by research that occurred in the Prakash Lab at Stanford University. Researchers there, who made the renowned “Paperfuge” (an electricity-free centrifuge) and the original physics model of the button spinner, continue to collaborate with BuzzButton as Silvert and his team begin to adapt it into an electricity generator. Brown engineering professors Haneesh Kesari, Jason Harry and Barrett Hazeltine are advising the project.

Seventeen teams total were awarded the $5,000 Stage One grant, while seven teams received a $20,000 Stage Two grant. These funds support the teams in conducting customer discovery research, advancing prototype development, and establishing their intellectual property portfolio as they move their projects out of university labs and into the market. In addition to funding, these innovators will take part in an intensive early-stage innovator training program over the summer.

BuzzButton was a semifinalist in the entrepreneur track of the 2020 RI Business Competition in May, and is currently competing in the Crisis Challenge Startup Competition, a competition that brings together university students from all backgrounds and majors to spend the next two months building the first wave of post-COVID startups.