Banner image: Panel judge Chris Vargas congratulates students from team Agraaze. (Credit: Omar Kaheel)
Imagine a world where shoppers can purchase “methane free” certified beef at the grocery store, landfills are no longer needed and cheese puffs come packaged in bags containing no plastic whatsoever. These exciting possible futures were among several presented Tuesday night at the New Venture Challenge (NVC) 15 Climate Prize Night showcase in downtown Boulder.
In a packed room of 60 people, five teams with entrepreneurial plans to tackle pressing climate change issues pitched their works in progress to a panel of judges, competing for a share of $20,000 in prize money.
“I was blown away by the solutions our students are creating in solving the climate crisis. From a deep-sea vacuum to carbon credit platforms to reducing methane in ranching to sustainable emulsions, our students are bringing amazing innovation to our climate challenges. I can’t wait to see these ventures grow!” said Erick Mueller, Executive Director of the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship and adjunct professor in the Leeds School of Business, who hosted the event.
Team Agraaze, first place winner and audience favorite, was awarded $10,000 for their carbon-reducing concept: To add a very small amount of red seaweed to cows’ diets, shown in a scientific study to cut their methane emissions by 82%. These seaweed feed pellets would address a major climate change issue: Methane emissions by cattle comprise 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If cows were a country, they’d be the 3rd largest emitter in the world.
In just five years, Agraaze co-founders Asa Peterson and Fynn Blake presented, their company could allow ranchers in the U.S. and beyond to market their meat as “methane free” and give consumers concerned about climate change a better choice for their barbeque.
“Our team is so inspired to be the audience favorite and to win the grand prize, because it incentivizes us to move forward and actually to tell people how much we need to put action towards saving our climate, saving the animals and the humans that live on the planet,” said Dasha Prosolova, Agraaze team member. “It makes us believe in ourselves more and bring the project to life.”
The panel of judges from across the world not only evaluated the teams’ pitches and awarded prize money, they also gave constructive feedback to each of the teams on their presentations. Chris Vargas, an angel investor from California and sponsor of the event, Carla Bustamante, director of the Masters Degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Chile and CU Boulder alumna, and Ameen Saafir, CEO and cofounder of Tynt Technologies, were engaged with and impressed by the caliber of the pitches made by the CU Boulder students.
They awarded second place and $6,000 to runner-up Next Use Composting & Recycling, presented by co-founder and Leeds School of Business student Steven Winterbach. Already up and running with 50 clients, this business currently based in the Denver metro area envisions “a world with no more landfills,” as they produce tons of methane and are quickly reaching capacity.
Next Use wants to lead the waste industry into the future, by making recycling and composting as convenient, effortless and affordable as possible. By servicing not only single-family homes, but apartment complexes and cities, and as the only door-side compost and recycling service in the Denver area, Next Use Composting & Recycling may soon become a no-brainer.
Third place and $3,000 went to Silvis Materials, who are developing 100% bio-based emulsions which could disrupt the petroleum market, replacing plastic in the current system with a product created from hemp biowaste. Silvis Materials is jointly developing their product with Andrew Goodwin, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering. Goodwin and the company teamed up in 2021 to win a $125,000 grant through the Lab Venture Challenge, a separate competition for startups, hosted by Venture Partners at CU Boulder. By the end of the decade, major producers of plastic bags and products, such as Pepsi, Mars and Dupont, could simply swap out polluting plastic for a cheaper, more sustainable material.
Urchin Merchants, who placed fourth, hope to market a specialized suction device to divers and conservation groups that could help save kelp forests off the coast of California and ecosystems around the world from exploding purple sea urchin populations. Their device is six times faster than current methods to remove urchins from the sea floor, and the affordable mechanism these engineers are testing would help ecosystems recover and store carbon again within 5 years.
“Who the heck would have thought of an underwater vacuum?” said judge Chris Vargas, impressed by the unique solution in their pitch.
Fifth place team Kol presented an app-based carbon credit platform, which would allow landowners to receive a timely estimate of annual revenue they could receive for not developing their land, based on publicly available forestry data. By “democratizing the carbon credit,” Kol could address deforestation and may encourage landowners to conserve the carbon on their property.
Now in its 15th year, the New Venture Challenge has been CU Boulder’s premier, cross-campus entrepreneurial program and competition, giving aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to build a startup through outstanding support and mentorship. The teams from last night will continue competing in the NVC general track, and first place winner Agraaze will compete in the first round of the NVC competition, ahead of the championship coming up on April 12, 2022.
CU senior Taylor Brooks-Murphy, Agraaze team member, credits their success largely in part to the program and its generous support.
“The folks that are willing to give their time and resources and just help out the teachers, it’s so selfless and it's like nothing I've ever seen before,” said Brooks-Murphy. “It's the only reason why we're here.”
As a global leader in climate, environmental and energy research, the University of Colorado Boulder is partnering with United Nations Human Rights to co-host the Right Here, Right Now Global Climate Summit in fall 2022.