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Student Rocket Scientists Win $10K Pitch Competition at UCF Technology Ventures Symposium

By: Kimberly J. Lewis | February 21, 2022
UCF aerospace engineering doctoral students Robert Burke and Adam Kotler, co-founders of Halo Engines, LLC.

Revolutionary rocket engine technology developed by students in an engineering lab at the University of Central Florida landed a $10,000 grand prize at the UCF Technology Ventures Symposium, a day-long virtual event on Feb. 17 connecting Orlando’s innovators, entrepreneurs and investors.

Hosted by the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science, UTVS 2022 was organized by faculty, staff and alumni from across the university. The day included inspirational keynote speakers, engaging panelists, specialty tracks to encourage networking and technology discovery; and a startup pitch competition with seven early-stage technology companies vying for the top prize.

Aerospace engineering graduate student Adam Kotler made the winning pitch with his company Halo Engines LLC, amidst strong competitors eager to grow their companies with products as diverse as a high-tech Earth-friendly fabric to artificial intelligence-powered video surveillance to a social-commerce-based menu ordering app.

Kotler, co-founder of Halo Engines, presented his company’s Rotating Detonation Rocket Engine as the future of space vehicle engines. As a student, Kotler and business partner Robert Burke, also an aerospace engineering graduate student, have been working with faculty advisor Kareem Ahmed, Ph.D., in the UCF Propulsion and Energy Research Lab to develop the technology into solutions for the rapidly-growing space launch industry.

“Our solutions will reduce development and launch costs for military and commercial customers,” says Kotler, who holds a UCF bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and is now working towards his master’s and doctoral degrees in aerospace engineering. “Halo is unlocking next-generation combustion cycles that will reduce propellant usage and simplify design architecture, resulting in reduced costs and expanded mission and payload capabilities.”

That pitch impressed the UTVS judges, a group of experienced technology entrepreneurs and investors based in central Florida.

“Halo Engines gave a compelling and informative presentation,” says symposium organizer Benjamin Patz, a UCF engineering alumnus and cofounding partner of DeepWork Capital. “Recent, never-before-seen results with the engine technology were key to the judges awarding the Halo team first prize amid stiff competition. We hope the team will continue to advance this unique technology.”

Kotler says the $10,000 prize money will be used to retain expert contract writers to maximize Halo Engines’ potential to land multimillion-dollar Small Business Administration awards with Phase I and Phase II proposals.

Two additional early-stage startups – Soarce, a high-tech fabric company pitched by UCF alumni Mason Mincey and Derek Saltzman; and TumYum, a menu ordering mobile-app company pitched by UCF student Alexander Damis and entrepreneur Rafe Monteiro – were both awarded the runner-up prize of access to the UTVS mentoring network: a group of successful local tech entrepreneurs and investors who help early-stage entrepreneurs grow their companies.

“Soarce presented an impassioned plea to reduce carbon impact with a revolutionary fiber-waste based fabric with truly impressive properties,” Patz says. “TumYum captured the judges’ imagination (and appetites) with a presentation that had real personality.”

Visit the UTVS website to learn about the symposium’s entire roster of 2022 presenters, including keynote speaker Eric Singleton, UCF engineering alumnus and co-founder, Strax Networks; keynote speaker Kathleen Loftin, Ph.D., UCF alumna and chief technologist, NASA Kennedy Space Center; featured speaker Christina Drake, Ph.D., UCF engineering alumna and founder/CEO, Kismet Technologies; and featured speaker Dr. Tommy Shavers, UCF alumnus and founder/CEO, NESTRE Health & Performance.

UTVS website visitors are encouraged to check back often as the recorded symposium presentations will be added to the 2022 UTVS Pantheon of Videos the coming days and weeks.

Watch the UTVS promotional video to learn more about the UCF Technology Ventures Symposium.