Sabin prize posts $25K incentive for eco-friendly business venture

Technically, money doesn’t grow on trees. But for the environmentalists who are trying to save those trees, it might.

Yale’s new Sabin Environmental Venture Prize will award $25,000 to the Yale affiliate who submits the best business proposal that “advances a more environmentally sustainable way of life.” But the prize is not simply a competition, but part of a larger shift in the way environmental problems are addressed, those involved with the prize said.

Bryan Garcia, program director at the Center for Business and Environment at Yale, said the prize is symbolic of a growing recognition that environmental issues require multidisciplinary approaches that bring together experts from a variety of disparate but related fields.

“There’s definitely a changing paradigm in terms of looking at problems through multiple lenses,” Garcia said. “In order to be effective in a specific sector of society, [students] have to be able to speak the language of law, of business, of engineering.”

Garcia said he is hoping to attract people from all corners of the University to apply for the prize: faculty, undergraduates and graduate students, working in disciplines as varied as business, law and engineering, with either nonprofit or for-profit ideas.

The application process for the Sabin Prize begins on Jan. 23, 2009, the deadline by which individuals must submit a one- to two-page letter of interest describing their ideas. In February, Maureen Burke, a School of Management lecturer on entrepreneurship, will hold a workshop for those planning to formally apply. Final applications are due March 27, and the winner will be announced in April.

The Sabin Prize originated with benefactor Andrew Sabin, an entrepreneur who specializes in precious metals, said Garcia. Sabin was interested in the idea of a competition related to business and the environment, although he was unsure of what the specifics should be.

Enter Anastasia O’Rourke FES ’09. A doctoral candidate at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, O’Rourke focuses her research on green technology and venture capital and is most interested in entrepreneurship and financing of environmental ventures. She said that when she heard the idea of an environmental prize being floated around, she suggested that it be awarded to a new venture to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship across campus.

Entries will be judged by a panel of Yale-affiliated entrepreneurs who will be chosen from around the New England area, Garcia said, although he, Burke and O’Rourke developed the criteria for judging.

Burke said that as a result of her prior experience as a judge for the early phases of Yale Entrepreneurial Society competitions, she seeks to avoid a bias toward ideas with patents and to make the prize equally winnable for both non- and for-profit organizations, Burke said.

“We’re making sure that the prize will make a difference to whatever the entity is,” she said, “not something that’s well established and doesn’t really need the extra prize money.”

The Sabin Prize will differ from YES competitions in that unlike the latter, the Sabin does not require a 40-page business plan, which Burke called an “imposing requirement.”

In keeping with the theme of interdisciplinary problem-solving, the prize is accompanied by a public speaker series, called the Sabin Prize Lecture Series. Garcia said it will feature four speakers from various professional fields — from engineering to social entrepreneurship — in order to attract similarly varied competitors.

“The old way was very linear, very ‘this is my discipline,’ ” Garcia said. “But you have to be able to communicate across sectors to be effective.”

Joint environment school and SOM students interviewed seemed to agree with Garcia, like Rita Hudetz FES SOM ’09 , a joint-degree student who said she is considering applying to the competition.

Hudetz, who is the co-leader of the Business and Environment Club at the School of Management, said she has observed among her fellow students a movement toward interdisciplinary study.

“I have lost count of the number of students who have said to me they chose to come to SOM largely because of its affiliation with CBEY,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Her classmate, John Paul Jewell FES SOM ’09, said he has been thinking about pursuing a business-plan idea and may apply for the Sabin Prize, but he has not yet considered it seriously.

As a joint-degree candidate, he said he strongly supported the interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues.

“It’s pretty essential because an environmental issue [like climate change] … impacts business, society, technology, transportation,” Jewell said. “We need to encourage multidisciplinary approaches to the solution because problems affect all disciplines.”

The next speaker in the Sabin Prize Lecture Series — William Acker GRD ’86 ’87 ’89, an expert on fuel cell and wind technology — will speak on Oct. 16 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. in Dunham Hall 120.

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