Making the Perfect Pitch for Stormwater Treatment

Achievement date: 

The challenge of selling a business plan to an investor trapped in an elevator was met by a graduate student at the Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Re-inventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt), an NSF-funded center with headquarters at Stanford University. Joseph Charbonnet’s 90-second pitch built on his research into manganese oxide-coated sand, and won first prize in the 2014 ERC Program-wide Lynn Preston Perfect Pitch Competition.


The Lynn Preston Perfect Pitch Competition, with its $5,000 first prize, compels ERC students to distill their research and consider it in the context of societal needs and the broader impact of their success. Students learn that effective communication helps create connections between researchers and potential investors, other stakeholders, and the general public.


Named for the chief architect of the ERC program until her retirement in 2014, the Lynn Preston competition is open to ERC undergraduates and Masters and PhD students. The prize is awarded after a competition at the national ERC biennial meeting in Washington, DC.

The ERC of the first-prize winner is also presented with the Lynn Preston Trophy, “for creating a nurturing environment that allowed their student to rise to the top of the competition.” Like all ERCs, prior to the national competition ReNUWIt hosted an internal Perfect Pitch Competition involving students from each of its four partner campuses. Winners of each campus competition traveled to compete in the ReNUWIt Perfect Pitch Finals at UC-Berkeley, with judges selected from ReNUWIt’s Industrial Advisory Board.

Charbonnet’s pitch was for Engineered Media for Stormwater Treatment, based on using manganese oxide-coated sand to collect pollutants from stormwater, including heavy metals, turbidity, pH, phosphate, and nitrates.