Success Story

Penn State’s Top Entrepreneurs Compete in Tech Tournament for $160,000 Prizes

Hunter Swisher and Ben Nason of Phospholutions receive their 1st place Tech Tournament prize from Penn State Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey

On April 20, at the Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference, Phospholutions captured first place in Penn State’s Tech Tournament. Licensing a technology created in the College of Agricultural Sciences, Phospholutions developed a soil-amendment product called Rhizosorb to reduce phosphorus runoff and enhance plant root depth.

Rhizosorb is currently being sold to golf courses to promote deeper roots for their turf grass, which consequently requires less watering and fewer applications of fertilizer. CEO Hunter Swisher and his COO and business partner, Benjamin Nason, claimed their $75,000 prize amidst raucous cheers from a packed room of more than 600 entrepreneurs and investors.

According to Swisher, an estimated 60 percent of the product applied in the $32 billion annual fertilizer market in the U.S. will wash away, and the country will spend an estimated additional $5 billion in 2018 to clean up phosphorous pollution because of runoff. He said he hopes to help solve that problem.

The opportunity to develop Rhizosorb emerged when Swisher was an undergraduate in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology. He learned about a patent developed by one of his professors that had not been commercialized yet. He saw market potential and set to work developing Rhizosorb and his company, Phospholutions.

In addition to Phospholutions, three other companies received prizes:

— ThoraciCair received 2nd place ($50,000 prize) pitched by Dr. Charles Palmer, professor of pediatrics

— Aleo BME, Inc. received 3rd place ($25,000 prize), pitched by Chao Liu

— ConidioTec, LLC. received the People’s Choice award ($10,000 prize), pitched by Nina Jenkins, Department of Entymology

Other startups competing in the 2018 Tech Tournament included…

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