CAMBRIDGE, MA — Each year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hosts its MIT Launch Competition and awards funds to the teams that pitch the best new product concept with a business plan to launch their company. After recently winning the highest award in the Mid Atlantic Regional competition, Livingston’s “Team Disolv” is one step closer to the international semifinals.

To compete for the grand prize of $100,000, entrants are required to show a prototype and a comprehensive business plan detailing how they will enter the market. The semi-finalists receive funding and mentorship. Ultimately, the finalists present onstage to an audience of more than 2,000 people on the MIT campus.

In 2016, Melinda Hu founded the Livingston High School (LHS) MIT Launch Club after attending the four-week MIT Launch Club camp the previous summer. Nine high schools from around the world sent video submissions, and the two teams competing from LHS earned first and second place. LHS students have now competed as finalists for three consecutive years.

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This year, Livingston's "Team Disolv"—consisting of members Aryan Bansal (Operations), Dylan Benzi (Technology), Tyler Burbage (Marketing) and Anthony Gadzi (Finance)—is designing a biodegradable battery. Benzi explained how the team chose the product of which they are producing a prototype.

“The contest was to come up with an innovative product,” he said. “We thought what better than to solve a global problem: batteries. Batteries take up about 24 percent of landfills around the world, and with the decomposition process taking hundreds of years, they sit there for a while taking up space. Batteries also contribute to landfill fires, which can harm the atmosphere. We thought a biodegradable battery would solve all these problems.” 

The concept for Disolv emerged from a December 2018 brainstorming session at a Starbucks. The four freshmen are working with professors from Carnegie Mellon University and Princeton University to carry out the chemical reactions. Their objective is to create a working prototype by the end of 2019. They are also close to becoming a Limited Liability Company (LLC).

In order to enter the MIT competition, the teams have to compete in regional contests. The regionals are held internationally in cities like Brussels, Boston, California and others.

Disolv attended the Mid Atlantic Regionals in New York City and competed against dozens of other teams. When his team was the last to be announced, Benzi said he and his teammates were afraid they didn’t place among the winners—but it actually turned out that they had earned the highest award.

“There were about 40-or-so teams at the regionals competition, but only five would advance,” he said. “After about seven or so hours of pitches, the judges came to a conclusion. They started handing out awards and one by one, and we started to lose hope.

“When there was only one award left, we panicked thinking we didn't win. This was the highest award you could get. They opened it up and exclaimed we won.”

The next step is applying for a grant. The young teens now hope to secure funding so they can move on to the international semifinals at MIT.