Axel Garcia-Burgos, third from left, pictured after the awards ceremony. Photo: Marc GB // Facebook.
Axel Garcia-Burgos, a PhD student currently enrolled in a joint program between Skoltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has won the top prize at this year’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA).
He beat out 53 other bright young entrepreneurs from around the world to win the award, which is organized by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a global peer-to-peer network of successful business owners.
The GSEA honors college and university students who operate businesses while completing their studies. Winners are eligible for financial support as well as a slew of donated products and services.
This year’s competition attracted some 1,500 applications. Following a series of local, national and regional competitions, 54 finalists were selected to compete for the top honor.
Garcia-Burgos won with his project HydroPearl, a biodegradable and cost-effective bead that delivers water and nutrients for healthy plant growth. The idea came to him as he and his team at aeronautics tech startup PRatian LLC considered how astronauts could grow plants on Mars. PRatian is an R&D platform that creates space technologies to solve global issues in agriculture and public health.
“It was by thinking how to enable plant growth by astronauts on an expedition to Mars that I created a technology that could mitigate the issue of droughts worldwide,” he said. “This technology can help maintain food security in dry areas where we lack water resources.”
He credited his time at Skoltech with having helped prepare him to win competitions like the GSEA. “During my graduate studies at Skoltech, I learned how to innovate in space technologies and several aspects of technology commercialization. The opportunity to meet other student entrepreneurs at Skoltech was truly valuable for me as well,” he said.
Garcia-Burgos. Photo: GSEA // Facebook.
He added that he believes his personal story helped set his project apart from the dozens of other brilliant ideas he was up against in the competition. “I was able to connect with hundreds of people by sharing my story: a student entrepreneur wanting to impact the world by creating space technologies.”
For winning first place, he received USD 25,000 and a wealth of international exposure. Asked how he plans to spend these resources, he said: “I plan to scale up my business and make connections from all around the world.”
Skoltech Professor Rupert Gerzer, who served as Garcia-Burgos’ advisor during his MSc studies at Skoltech, said: “I am proud of this great prize won by Axel and his team, but not very surprised. While he was a Master’s student at Skoltech, he already excelled in leadership, organized events and excursions in the field of human spaceflight, was a Teaching Assistant and coordinated a group of students to write a peer reviewed and very interesting review article on the future of human spaceflight that attracted much attention. His master project on in house farming focusing on technology transfer from space-to-earth applications was also excellent. He is a real leader. Congratulations, Axel!”
Stephen Shortt, GSEA Global Chair, said in a statement: “We have seen some truly phenomenal businesses being run by our participants this year. It’s inspiring to see the range of needs and solutions the businesses cater to, some of which bring direct positive impact to entire communities as well. Our mission through the GSEA competition is to give these student entrepreneurs the opportunity to accelerate their success and connect with a global peer group they can lean on and provide support to.”
Garcia-Burgos has more than 8 years’ of experience with research development in NASA centers and the private space industry. He is presently pursuing his PhD studies in Aerospace Engineering from a joint program between Skoltech and MIT. His experience focuses on spacecraft development and life support systems.
The GSEA global finals took place in Toronto between 14-16 April.
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