UMaine Ph.D. Student Wins UMaine Business Challenge

University of Maine Ph.D. student Nadir Yildirim won first place at the 2015 UMaine Business Challenge for his company that aims to develop eco-friendly, recyclable and reusable products for several industries.

Yildirim, a student in the Wood Science and Technology Program in the School of Forest Resources, received $5,000 to further develop his business, Revolution Research, Inc.

After completing the graduate certificate in Innovation Engineering through the Foster Center for Student Innovation in 2014, Yildirim started the Orono-based RRI to develop and commercialize eco-friendly replacements of petroleum-based thermal insulation products.

Yildirim, who has been working to develop nanomaterials and nanocomposites using nanotechnology since 2011, started RRI with Alexander Chasse, a 2013 civil engineering graduate from UMaine. Chasse works at the university conducting nanomaterial research.

RRI’s current focus is the creation and commercialization of eco-friendly thermal and acoustical insulation foam boards for use in the construction industry. Its first invention is a patentable board manufactured with little environmental effects, according to Yildirim.

“RRI’s novel foam boards will not only be better for the environment than current petroleum-based products, but will also provide improved energy efficiency,” he says.

Yildirim of Mugla, Turkey, says it never snows in his hometown and heating, cooling and energy efficiency is not a concern. When he moved to Maine in 2011 — the coldest place he has ever been — he realized the importance of thermal insulation.

“With a better thermal insulation you can save the environment; you can save lots of money,” Yildirim says, citing a lack of available eco-friendly thermal insulation alternatives. “We are planning to have the first 100 percent recyclable and reusable foam board on the market.”

Currently RRI doesn’t have any employees, but within the next five years, Yildirim hopes the company will have its own Maine-based production facility with about 30 employees.

The $5,000 cash prize from the UMaine Business Challenge will be used for prototype flammability tests, Yildirim says.

“Making our foams fire resistant will be a stronger selling point for our product once it hits the market,” he says, adding most similar products are flammable. “We would like to create foam that is ready to go with no need for additional coatings, films or barriers.”

Yildirim says he, Chasse and RRI have benefited from the entire UMaine Business Challenge experience. Jesse Moriarity, coordinator of the Foster Center for Student Innovation, was RRI’s mentor throughout the challenge and provided valuable suggestions, he says.

“It is not just winning something or bringing money to the company; the important part for us was the feedback that we got from the jury,” Yildirim says. “Seeing their support made us believe more in what we are doing. Increasing our professional network and having insight from their experience was a huge opportunity for us.”

Since the company began, RRI also has received a $5,000 award from the Maine Technology Institute and has applied for a larger National Science Foundation (NSF) grant which will be announced in May or June 2015.

The UMaine Business Challenge is the state’s largest student entrepreneurship competition. It was founded in 2011 by a group of 2010 UMaine graduates who wanted to give back to their alma mater while creating more opportunities for student entrepreneurs. This is the first year in which students from any Maine college or university were invited to apply.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747