University of Michigan Students Win Top Honors at Wal-Mart’s Better Living Business Plan Challenge
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Students representing the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment won Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.’s first Better Living Business Plan Challenge. Wal-Mart developed the competition to provide business students from around the world an opportunity to invent sustainable products or business solutions. On Friday, April 18, student teams from eight colleges and universities presented their business plans to a panel of executives from Wal-Mart and other leading companies and non-governmental organizations.
“All of the students did a fantastic job developing their ideas and presenting them to a distinguished panel of judges,” said Kim Saylors-Laster, vice president of energy for Wal-Mart. “The judges selected the University of Michigan submission because it addresses the growing need for renewable fuel sources and the social mission of economic development, in a way that is both profitable and sustainable. We hope this concept and the other great ideas presented will help build the businesses of tomorrow while protecting our natural and energy resources.”
The winning team, consisting of Jeff LeBrun, Tony Gross, Mike Hartley, Amir Satvat and Ali Moazed were awarded $20,000 for developing a biodiesel company that will produce a nonfood-based renewable fuel while supporting sustainable development in Africa. The company, Mozergy, will develop and propagate jatropha crops in Mozambique and other developing countries. Jatropha is a sustainable, low-cost, high-yield plant that produces oil-rich seeds. These seeds can be extracted and refined to produce biodiesel. Because jatropha is not edible and can grow on marginal land, it is not expected to impact food production.
“We’re thrilled to seize the opportunity Wal-Mart has given us to provide a low-cost renewable energy source, create jobs in a developing country and be profitable,” said Jeff LeBrun. “Mozergy is a way to make globalization work for sustainability and expand the portfolio of energy options at the same time. Ideally this product and others like it can drive a transition toward low-carbon energy solutions that are both profitable and beneficial.”
After narrowing the finalists down to the University of Michigan and Stanford University, Mozergy was selected the winner. The other innovative ideas presented during the Better Living Business Plan Competition included:
- Arizona State University: Green Taxi Cab, a nationwide fleet of owner-operated hybrid taxis with centralized dispatch services;
- University of Arkansas: AMP+, an ultracapacitor that increases battery life for cellular phones and other battery-powered devices;
- Babson College: Generate Change, an automated change collection business that generates funds for community organizations and projects;
- Imperial College (London): My S*Mart, an online shopping site that helps members learn the environmental features of products before purchasing them;
- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: geoFridge, which integrates geothermal technology into commercial refrigeration systems;
- Stanford University: Energy Empowered, a company that develops sustainable products for consumers including Green Switch, a power strip that saves standby power while providing feedback on the amount of energy saved; and
- Stillman College: Solar Systems’ Inc., a solar installation for the city of Knoxville, Tenn.
“It’s been a surreal experience to start with an idea more than a year and a half ago, take it to Mozambique and now build it into something with great potential,” LeBrun continued. “We will use our winnings to help fund our return trip to Mozambique this summer to work with experts in jatropha cultivation and local agriculture to improve yields and determine the best crop varieties for our location.”
The Mozergy team received support from the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, the Zell / Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, the Center for Sustainable Systems and the William Davidson Institute.