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UT team receives entrepreneurial award

A group from UT recently was awarded the Spirit of I-Corps award for exceptional overall performance in the Bay Area National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Program.

The team — made up of Dr. Kevin Czajkowski, UT professor of geography and planning; Kimberly Panozzo, UT graduate student; and businessman Navin Singhania — participated in the seven-week curriculum to promote entrepreneurship and see how their innovation can have a commercial impact.

Kimberly Panozzo, Navin Singhania, center, and Dr. Kevin Czajkowski posed for a photo in front of the Domaine Chandon Winery in Napa Valley, where the UT team interviewed grape growers about using tile drains.

Their research focused on agricultural drainage tiles that are used to remove excess water from fields and help make the soil more fertile. Farmers have expressed how hard it is to find old underground tiles to repair or to add on to.

The UT team, called Drain Tile Mapper, developed a technique to detect underground drainage tiles using remote sensing.

“When we started the program, we thought that there may be interest in knowing where tiles were,” Czajkowski said. “We found out that there is a real need for mapping them.”

Drain Tile Mapper received a $50,000 grant to conduct customer discovery and attend the national program.

“Receiving the award was really quite a surprise. We felt like we were just barely keeping up with the teams,” Czajkowski said.

Panozzo and Czajkowski traveled to New York, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and throughout Ohio to interview potential customers about tile drains. Each week, Panozzo prepared a web presentation based on what they learned from the interviews.

The group is discussing whether to form a company based on their experience with I-Corps and the research they did with drainage tiles.