Morgan State Researchers Awarded $50,000 NSF Grant to Explore Commercial Potential of Stormwater Utility Management Software

March 5, 2024

Researchers from Morgan State University received a $50,000 grant through the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program to explore the commercial potential of their stormwater utility management software.

The team is the first in Maryland to be selected from a historically black college or university for the NSF’s National I-Corps Teams training program, which it will attend this May.

Pictured, from left to right: Adrielli Bonfanti Pagnoncelli and James Hunter.

Interim Chair and Associate Professor James Hunter, Associate Professor Dong Hee Kang, in the department of civil and environmental engineering, and Adrielli Bonfanti Pagnoncelli, a doctoral student in the sustainable and resilient infrastructure engineering program, all from Morgan State University, comprise the team.

Through the grant, Hunter, Kang, and Pagnoncelli will participate in National I-Corps Teams, an intensive seven-week program during which participants engage with prospective customers, partners, and others in the ecosystem to evaluate the commercial potential for turning their technologies into successful products, processes and services.

Hunter, Kang, and Pagnoncelli are developing a software system that helps government entities with stormwater management. The system can establish fees, abatements, and tradeable stormwater credits using publicly available parcel database information. It also assesses and generates a per-parcel stormwater utility fee based on the amount of impervious surface in an individual plot of land.

“Our software looks at stormwater financing, specifically stormwater utility fees,” said Hunter. “It is becoming an increasing burden for municipalities to meet stormwater regulations. Sometimes tax revenue is not enough to cover costs and there is a need for dedicated funding. Our goal is to provide software that determines what that fee should be across different land uses in a fair and equitable way.”

Governments are tasked with managing stormwater in a variety of ways, said Hunter, including green infrastructure, stormwater ponds, bioretention systems, and non-structural practices such as street sweeping and removing leaves from storm drains. Municipalities also deal with discharges into the water system and extreme weather events.

All of this comes at a cost. That’s where his team’s software comes in.

“When you are dealing with limited budgets for certain towns, this form of trying to create some dedicated funding becomes a very important tool, but it has to be done fairly, backed by data and clean engineering logic,” Hunter explained. “It’s a process you want to get right the first time.”

The team plans to add stormwater operation capabilities into its software as well.

For the National I-Corps Teams cohort, Hunter and Pagnoncelli will interview potential customers. “We plan to go to conferences and events related to stormwater around the Chesapeake Bay,” said Pagnoncelli.

There are more than 2,000 stormwater utilities in the U.S., according to a Western Kentucky University study conducted in 2021.

Morgan State was awarded a patent for the team’s technology, titled “System and Method for Stormwater Utility Management,“ in September 2023. Donghee Kang, associate professor, civil engineering, and Hye Jeong Lee, instructional laboratory assistant, both from Morgan State University, were also listed on the patent.

Hunter completed a regional I-Corps cohort held in partnership with TEDCO in May 2017. “It was a really good experience,” said Hunter. “I am a very introverted person, so calling up people at random is a scary thing to do. But after you get the first few interviews in, it’s easy.”

Pagnoncelli participated in a regional UMD I-Corps cohort in October 2023.

Hunter received both Phase 1 and Phase 2 awards from TEDCO’s Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) to develop the system.

Pagnoncelli is the entrepreneurial lead for the team as it participates in the National I-Corps Teams program. The team’s mentor is David Hirschman.

If you are interested in NSF I-Corps and in applying for a $50,000 NSF grant to commercialize your research, please reach out to I-Corps instructor GP Saggese, at