A Green Transformation in Research Labs, Driven by UMD Student Entrepreneurs
In a world increasingly focused on sustainable practices, University of Maryland student entrepreneurs are determined to make a difference with their startup Sustainabli.
Oliver D'Esposito, a computer science major in the Gemstone program in the Honors College and the lead engineer at Sustainabli, is on a mission to transform research labs into greener and more environmentally conscious spaces. Through technology his team developed, lab administrators can now effectively manage and account for power usage, helping research institutions like UMD reach their sustainability goals.
D'Esposito envisions a future where every lab is equipped with efficient power management systems, contributing to a significant reduction in energy waste and a more sustainable research landscape.
A major way labs lose energy is through fume hoods, which remove hazardous vapors and gases generated during experiments, but running them when they’re not in use can cost academic, industrial and government labs across the country over $4 billion every year. Sustainabli’s Sashimi Sash Manager—an installable lab sensor and digital dashboard—reminds scientists to shut the sash to their fume hoods and tracks energy use.
“Our research showed that equipment used for a few minutes in university labs used 3.5 times the amount of energy as a house in the same year if left open. This is, of course, a huge issue,” said D'Esposito. “It leads to more greenhouse gases than necessary, causing negative effects on our environment and wasting energy for our universities. Sashimi will be able to track this waste and put an end to it.”
Sustainabli took home the $30,000 grand prize and the $1,000 Tom's Industrious Entrepreneur Prize at the 2023 Pitch Dingman Competition. The company also received the $5,000 first-place venture team prize at the 2023 Do Good Challenge and participated in the Terp Startup summer accelerator in 2022.
While sustainability in research labs presents a unique set of challenges, D'Esposito remains determined to overcome them. He emphasizes the importance of fostering a culture of awareness and education.
"There is a need to create a mindset shift and raise awareness about the environmental impact of research labs,” D'Esposito said. “By engaging researchers, administrators and other stakeholders, we can collectively work toward sustainable lab practices and inspire lasting change. We also want to minimize our impact on the planet and ensure a net positive change."
Looking to the future, D'Esposito envisions Sustainabli expanding its reach beyond UMD and partnering with research institutions nationwide. Their goal is to be the go-to solution for labs seeking to become more sustainable, providing comprehensive power management solutions and continuing to innovate to address the evolving needs of the scientific community.
Discussing the progression of Sustainabli, D'Esposito emphasizes the focus on getting the sensor out and producing as many as possible to make a sizable impact.
“We want our sensors in every lab to conserve as much energy as possible. There are numerous opportunities to expand within our university and beyond,” D'Esposito shared. “Our platform has a significant impact, providing tools and data for effective power management. We plan to concentrate on our sensor and collaborate with as many schools, institutions, and labs as possible to effect positive change and expand as needed.”
Sustainabli exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to sustainability that UMD fosters in its students. As the startup gains traction and researchers embrace the need for sustainability, the team's vision of greener and more efficient research labs will undoubtedly become a reality, paving the way for a brighter, more environmentally conscious future.
—Story by Samuel Malede Zewdu, CS Communications
Other team members also include alum and current students at UMD:
- Ann-Audrey Ezi (B.S. '26, computer engineering)
- Andrew Hong (B.S. '23, computer science; B.S. '23, biological sciences)
- Michael Li (B.S. '22, mathematics; B.A. '22, music)
- Kevin Tu (B.S. '23, biological sciences; B.S. '23, economics)
- Telon Yan (B.S. '23, mechanical engineering with computer science minor)
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