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ECE Alums Jose LaSalle and Alex Nichols Among Winners in Executive Pitch Challenge

Hempax team

Hempax Team

Alumni Jose LaSalle and Alex Nichols of the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department were two of the four members of team HEMPAX, which finished in second place during the Executive Pitch Challenge in November, winning a $3,000 prize. In addition to HEMPAX, six other College of Engineering students were also members of two teams that won the fourth-place prize of $2,000 and an honorable mention prize of $500 in the Executive Pitch Challenge.

The Executive Pitch Challenge is hosted by the Berthiaume Center For Entrepreneurship. During the fall of 2021, the center hosted a series of competitions and co-curricular programming open to all UMass Amherst students and graduates of the last decade as part of their Innovation and Entrepreneurship Academy. Participants developed their ideas, created startup plans, and scaled their startups through boot camps, advice from industry experts, mentors’ guidance, and celebrity judges’ feedback. All competitions were open to UMass students and graduates of the last decade (GOLD alums).

HEMPAX also took second place in the Social Entrepreneurship Competition. Other members of the HEMPAX team were Joseph Hastry, an M.S. alumnus in accounting, and Brian Jing, a chemistry alumnus.  

As the HEMPAX team explains, “HEMPAX Energy Systems is a bio-based materials and energy storage company providing solutions to address the critical bottlenecks to the global decarbonization and electrification of utilities, transportation, and buildings.”

As the HEMPAX team members say, the challenges meeting new power requirements in the current global energy setting involve the decarbonization required to create a clean-energy environment, the intermittent nature of renewables, the progressive electrification of our culture, and the booming needs of energy storage.

“Our solution,” say the HEMPAX team members, “is a unique electrode material, Hempaxium™, using a patent-pending synthesis of regeneratively grown biomass and select additives. Our material has been successfully applied in ultracapacitors, creating an exceptionally high-energy power cell to pair with batteries in hybrid energy storage systems and thus enabling utilities to safely provide reliable and affordable power from renewable sources.”

LaSalle, who graduated from UMass Amherst in 2016, adds that “I owe deep gratitude to the ECE department and College of Engineering for the opportunities they provided me as an undergrad which prepared me for founding this company.”

In addition to the HEMPAX team, another College of Engineering competitor was Vishesh Gupta of the ECE department. He joined Biology major Ami Mungilwar on the fourth-place team, Learnin.

Learnin would allow users to follow their passion for learning through curated short videos, insightful podcasts, and heartwarming tales. It provides fresh and knowledgeable content that helps them learn something new every minute and connect with people around the world who are like-minded and have similar interests.

Besides those two prize-winning teams, the SequesChar team of Ethan Gorman, Jack Sunko, Conor McGovern, Joe Manchester, and Lincoln Wiggan of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department won an honorable mention prize.

SequesChar plans to transform brewers’ spent grains into biochar for carbon capture, soil amendment, and renewable energy to use on site.

Pictured below: Hempax team members in front of the Life Science Laboratories on the UMass Amherst campus. 

Hempax team in front of Life Sciences Building

(December 2021)