UTSA CITE Competition
Noah Bemisderfer (left) and Nestor Falcon stand beside the Vault-0, a battery-powered mobile generator that won them the top prize in The University of Texas at San Antonio Center for Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship's venture competition. Credit: Courtesy / The University of Texas at San Antonio

Matthis Herrera had a problem. The power generators for his mobile pet grooming business were constantly breaking down.

The incessant repairs and intermittent downtime affected his company’s bottom line. But rather than settling for the status quo, Herrera phoned the University of Texas at San Antonio’s engineering department.

Five UTSA students were awarded the top prize in an entrepreneurship competition Tuesday for their solution to Herrera’s generator issue. It’s a battery-powered mobile generator that will allow him to replace his fleet of six gas-powered generators for his mobile pet grooming business, Go Pawz Go. The problem isn’t unique to Herrera’s business. In fact, the small-business owner said generator upkeep is the top complaint among mobile groomers.

“There’s nothing commercially available on the market, and I’m not the only one that has these generators,” he said. “If I’m feeling the pain, they’re definitely feeling the pain.”

The team of engineering and business students earned $100,000 in in-kind donations and technical advice by winning the UTSA Center for Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship’s annual Student Technology Venture Competition. The group, whose fledgling company is called EnVault, will use the prize pool to obtain certifications from governmental organizations, including the United Nations, and to file its full patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The battery inverter system EnVault devised, which it calls the Vault-0, supplies power that would have otherwise been provided by the prone-to-mechanical-failure gas-powered generators. The team says it is a direct one-to-one replacement for the machines and are retrofitted to the dimensions of the generators. The system would also help businesses cut down on carbon emissions, according to EnVault.

Between maintenance, repairs, fueling expenses, and downtime costs, EnVault estimates generator users would save more than $100,000 by switching from a gas-powered generator to the Vault-o. The startup is targeting 1 percent of the $1.2 billion mobile generator market, which would equate to annual revenue of about $180 million, the team said in its presentation.

“Knowing that the market’s there, and it’s a need … we feel very confident in this product,” said Robert Chavez, a member of EnVault’s business team.

Tracy Ferry, Lockheed Martin’s head of global talent acquisition, served as a judge for the CITE competition. She said EnVault’s ingenuity in solving a problem prevalent in the mobile generator industry stood out.

“The need sort of found them,” Ferry said. “They were given $10,000 and [told], ‘Go fix this.’ And they came together, and they were able to tap into a market where, even with just 1 percent of market share, they could have an incredible amount of profitability. So, to me, that was one of the key factors.”

EnVault beat out four other teams to claim the top prize Tuesday. Ferry said the CITE competition is growing every year and provides inspiration to students to pursue careers and entrepreneurship in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.

“So many times it’s difficult to bridge the world of academia with the business world, and this bridges that beautifully,” she said.

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.