Alumnus creates fund for new environmental ventures

The Center for Business and the Environment at Yale is sponsoring several new awards for environmental entrepreneurs and researchers as well as tweaking its flagship Sabin Environmental Venture Prize, program director Bryan Garcia said.

The Center will offer an additional $100,000 in research grants — funded by a donation from Merrill Lynch senior vice president David Sobotka ’78 — for both students and faculty, Garcia said. The $25,000 Sabin Prize will also no longer be open to non-profit organizations, he added.

“My motivation [for funding the grants] comes from a deep concern about society’s ability to effectively deal with environmental issues without direct business involvement,” Sobotka said in an e-mail. “Money is simply an enabler.”

The Sobotka Research Fund will enable the center to provide three new grants, Garcia said. The Collaborative Research Grant will fund student and faculty research with grants ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 to develop research projects. The Joint Degree Capstone Research Fund will make $2,500 available to third-year joint degree students in the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies for their final research project. Finally, five $5,000 Seed Stage Venture Grants will be awarded to student and faculty teams who put together environmentally-friendly business prototypes, similar to the $25,000 Sabin Prize, established in 2008.

The Seed Stage Venture Grants, Garcia said, are meant for companies that are in the idea phase of planning and need funds to begin creating real commercial prototypes. The grants will cover test expenses such as equipment, analysis, data purchase and travel for researchers, he added.

“We want the teams to test their product or service and create something that has the potential to be backed by an investor,” Garcia said. “We want to embed competitiveness into the psyche of Yale students.”

Applications for the Joint Degree Capstone Research Fund are due Sept. 30, while applications for the Collaborative Research Grants and Seed Stage Venture Grants must be submitted by Oct. 15, Garcia said.

The Seed Stage Venture Grants are a further step in the Center for Business and the Environment’s mission to teach students how to create business models. In fact, teams who receive Seed Stage Venture Grants are required to improve their business models after conducting research and enter the competition for the Sabin Prize, the center’s main award. Unlike previously, however, only for-profit startups will be allowed to compete for the Sabin Prize, Garcia said.

“We needed to be able to compare apples to apples,” he said. “The business models were too hard to compare.”

Kate Harrison FES ’09, the first winner of the Sabin Prize, praised the center’s initiative to give students even more resources for creating business enterprises.

“I did not have any business background and working with the [Center for Business and the Environment] gave me the foundation and tools I needed to begin my company, [Green Bride Guide],” Harrison said.

The 2010 Sabin Prize was awarded to SilviaTerra, a company that collects forest data from outer space.

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