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June 18. 2014 9:47PM

Innovator of water-saving shower head is tabbed New Hampshire Startup Challenge winner


New Hampshire Startup Challenge winner Devon Bernard talks with members of the audience about his product, the Eco-Valve, while his proud mom, Pauline Noel, hangs on to his prize, a mock $55,000 check representing cash and in-kind services. (BARBARA TAORMINA/Union Leader Correspondent)

Devon Bernard describes himself as an eco-friendly guy who would like to help people curb consumption and conserve resources.

Bernard, 20, channeled those green goals into a new product, Eco-Valve, a shower head attachment that saves water, energy and money. The product was chosen as this year’s winner of the New Hampshire Startup Challenge, sponsored by the Manchester Young Professionals Network.

“This is unexpected,” said Bernard, as he was called to the stage at the Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College on Tuesday night to receive his prize, a check for $55,000 in cash and in-kind services to help turn the Eco-Valve prototype into a consumer product in homes throughout the country.

Bernard, the 2012 valedictorian of Epping High School, has a suitcase full of awards including the President’s Education Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence, Advanced Placement Awards in calculus and physics and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute medal for excellence in math and science.

He should probably be accustomed to coming in first by now.

But the soft-spoken Bernard knew he was up against a talented field of finalists.

“Did you see that presentation with the photo of President Obama?” he asked, referring to Inventioneers Etc., a Londonderry family team of electronic whizzes led by Tristan Evarts who have developed SMARTwheel, a steering wheel cover able to sense and prevent distracted driving with a light-up warning. During the Inventioneers’ trip to Washington, the President Barack Obama was so impressed with SMArtWheel, he said he would like one for his daughter, Malia, who begins driving this year.

Also chosen as finalists were two startups that seemed to be inspired by New Hampshire.

Strafford resident Jameson Small, a farmer and enthusiastic beer drinker, presented his business, Isinglass River Hops Exchange, a network of local farms that produce and process hops for the craft beer industry.

Dan Hannon and Meredith Noyes of Manchester introduced Trailoo, an online hub of camps and summer vacation programs for parents and kids.

The MYPN launched the Startup Challenge in 2008 to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.

Since its start, MYPN has awarded more than $210,000 in cash and in-kind services that all entrepreneurs can use, such as legal advice and accounting services.

Mark Kaplan, CEO of Alpha Loft, formerly abiHUB, a Manchester-based entrepreneurship center and business incubator that helped sponsor the Startup Challenge, said the competition was good for the contestants and the entire state.

“We want these people to stay here and build new companies and create good jobs,” he said.

Kaplan said the competition offered a unique opportunity for up and coming innovators.

“We want to connect entrepreneurs with seed capital,” he said. “The winner doesn’t lose equity in their company. This is purely an award to start something.”

The four finalists gave five-minute elevator pitches to an audience of other young entrepreneurs, seasoned business people, friends and supporters.

Each speaker or team presented different aspects of their business plan including their targeted market and potential for growth and profits.

Bernard started his pitch with some disturbing statistics about the billions of gallons of water Americans use and waste showering. Added to that is the amount of energy squandered to heat that water.

Eco-Valve uses ultra-sonic sensors to detect the distance between the nozzle and the person in the shower and automatically adjust the water pressure. Step back from the nozzle and the water slows or stops.

“You just screw it on to the shower head,” Bernard said. “We want to give you the power to decide how much water you use to shower.”

Bernard said the prize money provides plenty of funding to perfect the Eco-Valve prototype. It may be for sale online as early as the end of this year.

And the clincher is that the small device can potentially save households hundreds of dollars a year in water and energy costs.

“Water conservation is important for the environment, but our product is also going to help consumers save money,” he said.

btaormina@newstote.com



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