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LocalTAU Tackles Florida Stormwater Runoff in Inaugural Pitch Competition
Wednesday, April 17, 2019 3:15:00 PM

Top scientific teams from Israel's leading university pitch novel solutions to local crisis in Shark Tank style competition; "Hydro Biofilters" team lands top prize, awarded $20,000 to pilot solution

Tel Aviv University (TAU), the City of Miami, the City of South Miami and the City of North Bay Village came together last night to solve one of Florida's most critical issues: stormwater runoff. In the first-ever LocalTAU competition, TAU professors and students gathered at CIC Miami to pitch their innovative solutions to an audience of nearly 100 people, including South Florida government officials and stakeholders and local and national American Friends of Tel Aviv University leaders, to help solve a crisis that affects millions of Florida residents. The "Hydro Biofilters" team won first place and $20,000 to begin researching and piloting the practical implementation of their solution.

"For Dr. Yaron Zinger and me, LocalTAU's pitch competition and meeting with South Florida leaders and officials opened up a new area of the U.S. that urgently needs innovative solutions to water issues that are intrinsically tied to climate change, including sea-level rise, saltwater intrusion and stormwater, which pose serious threats to the Sunshine State," said Prof. Dror Avisar. "Winning the competition is icing on the cake. Of course, we want to thank the leadership of LocalTAU and AFTAU. We're looking forward to the next steps."

See photographs from the event

Two teams were selected from 15 applicants to participate, and included:

 

  • "Hydro Biofilters": Proposes building multi-layered biofilters to direct stormwater away from city streets, purify it and turn it into an easily accessible water resource. Presented by Prof. Avisar and Dr. Yaron Zinger.
  • "The Drain Box": Proposes dividing stormwater runoff: domestic collection from roofs and balconies into home-adjacent containers; municipal collection diverts runoff to an underground infiltration box; and a much smaller portion into the bay. Presented by Ines Zucker, PhD and Gil Nisim, MSc candidate.

The LocalTAU competition used Shark Tank-style rules. Both teams were given ten minutes to present their innovative solutions and then faced a round of questions from the judges panel. Judges included: Dr. Frances Colón, former highest-ranking Hispanic scientist in the Obama State Department; Col. Alan M. Dodd, director of the City of Miami Department of Resilience and Public Works; Melissa Hew, program manager in the City of Miami Office of Resilience and Sustainability; Denise O'Brien, Chair, North Bay Village Sustainability and Resiliency Task Force; Zac Cosner, City of South Miami sustainability administrator; Tamence Knowles, director of environmental health and safety at FIU; and Michael Rupinski, environmental compliance officer at FIU.

The judges challenged both teams about the sustainability of their potential solutions due to Florida's frequent hurricanes, issues with coordination and sequencing, concerns about mosquitos and Zika virus and ultimately the cost of implementation.

After 15 minutes of private deliberation, the judges returned to offer their analysis of the proposals and announce the winner. They provided commentary on the pros and cons of each proposals. Ultimately, the judges preferred the Hydro Biofilters proposal citing its low cost and sustainability.

Amanpour & Company correspondent Alicia Menendez served at the moderator of the event. LocalTAU founders Vinna Katz and Romina Ruiz-Goiriena provided introductory remarks. Special guests Mr. Guy Gilady, Deputy Consul General of Israel in Miami, and Clement Erbmann, national chairman of American Friends of Tel Aviv University also spoke briefly.

The host committee included: Romi Bhatia, executive director of Idea Center at Miami Dade College; Dave Doebler, cofounder of Volunteercleanup.org; Sarah Emmons, managing director of Radical Partners; Albert Gomez, head of superNATURE; TJ Marston, principal at Plot Studio and instructor at FIU; Dara Schoenwald, cofounder and executive director of Volunteercleanup.org; Rachel Streitfeld, Esq., founder and managing partner of Bright Side Legal; Caiti Waks, Esq., cofounder and president of Debris Free Oceans; and Jeremy Waks, cofounder of Debris Free Oceans.

About LocalTAU
LocalTAU is a young leadership program that offers engaged, passionate leaders the opportunity to identify local issues and source innovative solutions from world renowned TAU research through an annual pitch competition. In the process, it creates awareness, community and synergy between TAU and young activists in cities across the United States. LocalTAU uses a self-funded grant model to bridge philanthropy and startup methodologies — i.e. pitch competitions, pilots and agile adaptation.

The South Florida collaboration is the first LocalTAU Pitch Competition and is produced in coordination with AFTAU.




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