Students Pitch Business Ideas for Former Uranium Enrichment Plant

Zoe Graham
April 17, 2014

A business pitch competition sponsored by the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University is giving regional college students the chance to breathe new life into a U.S. Department of Energy facility in Piketon, Ohio.

In competitions on March 26 and 27, students from Ohio University Chillicothe Campus and Shawnee State University pitched suggestions for companies that could make use of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio. The plant operated from 1954 until 2001, enriching uranium for nuclear weapons and, later, nuclear power plants. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Energy began the process of decommissioning and decontaminating the site to prepare it for reindustrialization.  The DOE site has valuable resources, including buildings, equipment, skilled staff and the reservation totals over 3,700 acres of land.

Winning teams from both schools will compete in a finale on April 24 at 1:00 p.m. at Shawnee State University that will be open to the public.

The competition is sponsored by the PORTSfuture project, an initiative funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management, Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office. 

Under this grant, OU faculty, staff, and students work on projects that inform decision-making related to cleanup and risk reduction at the PORTS facility. Project efforts provide information to DOE that contributes to the cleanup occurring faster, better, and cheaper. This will accelerate the repurposing of the facility for other industrial uses resulting in economic benefits to surrounding communities in Jackson, Pike, Ross, and Scioto counties.

 “The skills students acquire during this process will benefit them throughout their careers,” said Tanya Hire, who teaches the students from Ohio University Chillicothe who participated in the competition. “In any organization, innovation is a critical component to organizational success. And this process encourages the students to take an innovative approach to utilize their critical thinking skills.”

Students received a DOE “business idea spark sheet” listing assets related to the plant, including highly skilled people and equipment. Students also had the opportunity to tour the facility, learn about its history, see unused resources on site, and work with venture capital professionals to prepare their pitches for the competition.

Each team of two to four students pitched their plans in 10 minutes or less, to a panel of judges from the DOE and TechGROWTH Ohio, a state-funded regional collaborative technology start-up acceleration program lead by the Voinovich School. Students were assessed on the quality of their ideas, as well as their presentations and written materials.

“A pitch competition like this is a first step for students to think, question and apply entrepreneurial thought and business principles of commercial development,” said Faith Knutsen, associate director of operations at TechGROWTH Ohio and a competition judge.  

The winning team from Ohio University Chillicothe was OrthoMed, which pitched the idea of manufacturing ceramic joint replacements. Second-place SKyEnergy pitched a process to generate renewable energy. Both teams will advance to the regional finale.

At Shawnee State University, the winning Athletes team pitched a plan to repurpose the plant into a solar energy facility. Second-place Nuke U pitched an in-house training program in building, running, and decommissioning nuclear facilities. Team Atom received third place for its plan focused on turning the plant into a nuclear energy facility. The winning teams from the first round will advance to the regional finale along with the winning teams from Ohio University Chillicothe.

For more information about the PORTSfuture project, visit www.portsfuture.com