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Written by: Cesar Bandera

Earlier this year, eight NJIT graduate entrepreneurship students participated in the first AECOM Grand Challenge in which international teams composed of AECOM researchers and university business students competed for AECOM funds to bring innovations to market. 722 innovations from around the world competed in the challenge, of which AECOM Ventures (the branch of AECOM managing the Grand Challenge) selected 10 finalists for the final “shark tank” competition and a 1 million dollar prize. Three of these 10 finalists were teams of NJIT students, and each team received $50,000 to prototype the innovation. 

AECOM Ventures held the shark tank event last month, and awarded first prize to the NJIT team consisting of MBA student Parth Dudeja, M.S. in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering student Subash Mannanal and AECOM senior scientist Steven Hall for the use of quantum cascade laser technology to increase production and reduce costs for the semiconductor industry. The team describes their innovation as follows:

In the semiconductor manufacturing process, plasma chambers are used that must be thoroughly cleaned between each fabrication cycle. Currently, there is no reliable scientific method for determining precisely when a chamber is clean. This team is offering a technology that could more accurately determine when plasma chambers are clean, thereby increasing equipment uptime and reducing costs. By shaving just one second from a plasma chamber's cleaning cycle, this product could add 58 hours of production capacity to each chamber annually. The value to the client for this one second saved — for just one chamber — is over US$4.6 million annually.

Mannanal and Dudeja developed the financial projections and market research that helped propel this innovation. Dr. Cesar Bandera, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at NJIT’s Martin Tuchman School of Management and mentor of the NJIT teams, says, “What makes the Grand Challenge unique among entrepreneurship competitions is AECOM’s commitment to innovation and to the competition itself. This is in fact an intrapreneurship competition.” AECOM Ventures has invited NJIT to participate in the second Grand Challenge, to be announced this fall. “NJIT students are not just skilled in technological innovation, but also in the business of innovation,” concludes Bandera.