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Startup Developing Sunscreen for Crops

With leadership and policy savvy under their belts, some alumni fellows seize the opportunity to strike out on their own. After serving in the office of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) until 2012, Gavi Begtrup (2009-10 Congressional Fellow sponsored by Optical Society of America and Materials Research Society) now heads WaveTech, a technology startup, as its CEO.

Matched with $150,000 from the State of Kentucky, WaveTech received a $150,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a light filter that can boost productivity in agriculture and control plant growth.

“We're excited about our NSF SBIR grant and the testing underway with algae and plants, but mostly we're excited about the prospect to have a meaningful impact on the future of food, fuel, and other photosynthesis derived products,” said Begtrup.

The technology controls the amount of light crops receive using a thin covering of nano-tech film that blocks out harmful ultraviolet light while optimizing beneficial light.

“Most recently, we completed Phase I of our SBIR grant, showing significant impacts on the growth of commercially relevant algae strains. We're now pursuing funding to expand our testing with commercial pilot projects as well as start proving utility in greenhouse horticulture,” Begtrup commented. The company hopes to obtain a Phase 2 SBIR grant of $750,000.

Co-founders Matteo del Ninno and Jacob Bertrand each respectively has a master’s degree in agriculture and biosystems engineering and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry. In addition to his science background, Begtrup was tapped to help launch the startup as someone with networking and business building experience.

Since his fellowship days, Begtrup is ever mindful of the valuable experiences and inspiration he gained while working with Congresswoman Giffords, and has been driven to continue working on issues that have a positive social impact. The Department of Commerce recently announced the launch of a program supporting science parks and innovation clusters – a program that he assisted Giffords on writing into the America COMPETES Reauthorization of 2010.

“Sometimes it takes a while, but it's great to see the fruits of your labor,” said Begtrup.