5C student group Shine wins $50,000 in US Dept. of Energy competition

A man holding a box talks to another man pointing at a wall.
Shine, a 5C student group, creates renewable energy technologies to help people recovering from natural disasters. (Courtesy: Solomon Olshin)

In a world that runs on electricity, what happens if you don’t have access to it? How do natural disaster survivors or homeless populations rebuild their lives without lighting or heat?

These are problems that Shine, a 5C student group, is ambitious enough to tackle. 

Shine, which is currently in the process of becoming a 5C club, is a group of 5Cers “working to address the basic needs of people transitioning out of homelessness and recovering from natural disasters using renewable energy technologies,” director Solomon Olshin PO ’23 said. 

Olshin and his team just won the first round of the U.S. Department of Energy’s American-Made Solar Prize, a competition which seeks to financially support and encourage innovations that will change the way that the U.S. solar manufacturing market works. 

He said Shine applied to the U.S. Department of Energy’s American-Made Solar Prize in December, a contest typically won by businesses and professionals to obtain seed funding for startup projects.

Out of 120 applicants, 20 winning teams were chosen. Each were given a prize of $50,000 and the opportunity to polish their projects for round two. The Shine team is diligently working on their round two submission, in hopes of being one of five to 10 teams out of 20 to be awarded a $175,000 grant to further their development.

“We are continuing to refine our ideas [for round two]. We are doing more market validation and research,” Olshin said. “We are developing the actual design and creating a prototype of our product as part of the basic requirements for this opportunity.”

Shine, which consists of students from across the 5Cs, started in Portland, Oregon. The idea for their first project arose when Olshin visited a tiny house community helping people transition out of homelessness.

“The biggest challenge that they faced, during winter especially when the sun sets at [5 p.m., is that] their day is over, and there was no electricity,” he said. 

Shine’s goal is to help those communities optimize the advantages of the tiny house community model, while staying cost-effective and appealing for everyday life.

“The little electricity that some residents had was powered exclusively by gasoline generators, which were expensive to maintain, expensive to refuel, noisy, pollutive and disruptive to their neighbors, which made the villages even less popular,” Olshin said.

The solution he devised was JuiceBox, a solar powered micro-grid that provides light, electricity and heat. It provides a cost-effective, environmentally sustainable alternative to gasoline generators for communities in need.

The product came out of a club called Invent Team at Olshin’s high school, where he served as co-creator and project leader. He pitched an idea for the project, and the club served as the initial incubator for JuiceBox. 

“As it became clear that it would be impossible to manufacture many of these things within the context of a school club, we transitioned to being a more independent organization,” said Olshin. “We now have fiscal sponsorship which means that we have bank accounts [as] a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.”

Since then, Shine has sought to embody the positivity rooted in their name, focusing on uplifting communities by providing accessible resources.

“Our primary values are first and foremost helping people shine, helping people gain access to resources that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise,” Olshin said. “Our second objective is to do that in an environmentally sustainable way. The name is really dual purpose. It encapsulates our objective to be a humanitarian organization that is environmentally responsible.” 

In the past three years, Shine has built 100 JuiceBoxes that serve about 250 people in the Portland area, with support from corporate sponsorships. 

“We’ve worked with Autodesk, eBay and other companies who have offices in areas … to bring their employees and engage them in educational workshops where they do community service and learn about creating something cool: the JuiceBox,” Olshin said. “They are able to actually manufacture the JuiceBoxes for us, so we have very limited labor costs in terms of creating many replications of our product.”

Since graduating high school, Olshin and some of the team have moved Shine here to the 5Cs. New members were found through in-person contact and reaching out on platforms like Chirps.

Sam Frantz PO ’22 joined the team as a videographer this year. He created a video about JuiceBox for the first round of the Solar Prize competition.

“Shine seemed like it had a great mission and a great goal. It’s something that I personally have a lot of conviction for,” Frantz said. “I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to use [creative] interests of mine.”

Shine is currently accepting applications for new members, both in preparation for round two of the Solar Prize, and to help strategize the most effective use of the $50,000 initial prize money. They are looking for students with interests in a variety of fields including market research, engineering and social media.

“We as a team will be making decisions within the next month or two to allocate funds towards projects that we feel are most important to our team members and to our community,” Olshin said. “If you would like to be a part of that decision-making, please consider joining us and being part of the team.”

All 5C students are welcome to apply and read more about Shine at https://shinewithus.org

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