April 12, 2013
Every two years, the US Department of Energy hosts a “Solar Decathlon”: a competition among 20 universities to design and build a solar-powered house.
Started in 2002, the program hopes to show the public that energy-saving homes can be beautiful and prepare students to work in the clean energy industry.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) is one of the participants this year, and their DesertSOL design is a second or vacation home tailored to the desert climate.
“UNLV’s Team Las Vegas designed DesertSol to be a house that uses SOLar energy as the fuel source, that provides a SOLution for residents living in a harsh desert climate, and that captures the ‘Soul’ of the Mojave Desert,” explains project engineer Jinger Zeng, a master of mechanical engineering student at UNLV.
Zeng leads the project with Alexia Chen, a master of architecture student at UNLV. Below, he explains what he’s learned about entrepreneurship from building a solar-powered house.
Tech Cocktail: What’s one quirky fact about your team?
Jinger Zeng: Our team operates just like a “startup.” We consist of 60 interdisciplinary college students from UNLV participating in this international design competition. For this two-year project, we had to submit proposals to be selected, recruit talents across campus, build the team, find and build our culture, build our product (the house), and compete. It’s a fast-paced and intense learning experience for college students who lack experiences in general. But we have managed to build a strong and diversified team, and we use each other’s positive energy to influence each other and influence the community.
Tech Cocktail: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn so far?
Zeng: Communications is the key to everything! Who is the audience, how to convey the idea.
Tech Cocktail: How do you keep your team motivated at the office?
Zeng: Being motivated all the time myself, always hard-working without complaining, and that positive energy influences my team.
Tech Cocktail: What common startup advice do you completely disagree with?
Zeng: “Concentrate just in your area.” I’ve learned that knowing about every aspect of the project, and exchanging ideas with people that I normally would not talk to, has opened my mind and made me see the bigger picture.
Tech Cocktail: If you had an extra $1,000 to spend on marketing, what would you do?
Zeng: Make really creative promotional items.
Tech Cocktail: What’s your biggest personal weakness and how do you make up for it?
Zeng: I care too much, I emotionally invest in my project so much that I get upset when people can’t see my vision. I make up for it by getting feedback and learning how to convey my story better, how to “touch” other people’s heart in a better way.
Tech Cocktail: What keeps you motivated on the hard days?
Zeng: Hot Pilates. Snowboarding. Music.
Tech Cocktail: What do you wish someone had told you about startup life?
Zeng: That it means you work in your dream.
Tech Cocktail: What personality trait has served you the best as an entrepreneur?
Tech Cocktail: If you weren’t doing this startup, what idea would you be working on?
Zeng: Grad school – research and computer simulation of power plant design and operation.
Tech Cocktail: How do you unwind on the weekend?
Zeng: Snowboarding! Swimming! Music and great food!
Tech Cocktail: What’s your crazy, long-term, huge vision?
Zeng: That we will revolutionize how architects, engineers, and communicators work together in the building industry.
Tech Cocktail: Why should I use your product, in 140 characters or fewer?
Zeng: UNLV’s first-ever Solar Decathlon team. Designing a home for the future, advancing the way we use energy.
DesertSOL was a showcased startup at this week’s Tech Cocktail Week mixer in Las Vegas.
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