Score one for Michigan. The University of Michigan students behind Husk Insulation — an early stage startup developing high-grade insulation for refrigerators from agricultural waste — beat out more than 100 teams from 40 colleges nationwide to win the grand prize of $200,000 in this year’s MIT Clean Energy Entrepreneurship contest.
At the awards ceremony yesterday, the group had the attention of Google’s (s GOOG) director of energy initiatives, Dan Reicher, the state energy and environmental affairs chiefs for Massachusetts, the CEO of utility NSTAR, and the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu — not a bad kickoff for a startup aiming to snatch a piece of the $7 billion U.S. insulation market. According to an XConomy report, Husk’s sales and marketing chief, Erica Graham, gave a three-minute “rocket pitch” before the prize announcement, explaining that the team’s 1-inch-thick vacuum-sealed insulation panels, made with waste from rice harvests, could boost the efficiency of a refrigerator by up to 50 percent and replace polystyrene panels that are four times as thick.
Graham also said that the $200,000, plus the $10,000 Husk won for the biomass category earlier this week (we wrote about the transportation category winner, Levant Power, which came in as the runner-up for the grand prize) will help the startup create a “market-ready prototype.” After finishing up business school, the team plans to turn their project into a full-on startup. That’s something the DOE — which is making a big push for energy efficiency these days — might be interested in helping along, although Husk would have to commercialize mighty quick to take advantage of stimulus-funded rebates for energy-efficient appliances.