As four finalist teams competed for the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize at the School of Management last Monday, they were greeted with a check for $25,000 resting on the wall behind them. The group that best convinced a panel of judges that its startup merited the sustainability prize would go home with that check at the end of the three-hour affair.
“It’s the biggest prize you can get on campus as a student,” said Cass Walker, the program director for social entrepreneurship at the Tsai Center for Innovation and Technology at Yale and the Yale Center for Business and the Environment.
Various student-led ventures secured a total of $125,000 over the course of a week known as Startup Yale. The week began with the Sabin Prize on Monday, which bolsters student entrepreneurship by funding for-profit business ideas with a commitment to sustainability. Walker said the Sabin Prize, started a decade ago, was the first of its kind, and that the other four prizes were then modeled after it in subsequent years.
Those four events took place on Friday. The Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health of Education, the Aetna Foundation Prize for Health Equity Innovation, the Rothberg Catalyzer Prize and the Miller Prize funded pursuits in various fields. For example, the Rothberg Catalyzer targeted teams that were developing a hardware solution to a medical challenge, while the Miller Prize went to the best tech or tech-enabled service startup. This year, Tsai Center for Innovation and Technology at Yale supported the Miller and Rothberg Catalyzer prizes; according to Walker, other prizes drew from funds set up by other foundations.
In order to reach the pitch stage, each student startup first submitted an in-depth application to the judges in March. The finalists, who were announced April 10, were then offered the opportunity to receive mentorship from Yale faculty members and participate in workshops on pitching strategies and business models.
On the day of the event, each finalist group delivered a pitch before a panel of judges consisting of both Yale faculty members and leaders in relevant fields. According to Walker, Startup Yale seeks to maximize the diversity of the panels in terms of industry, gender and race.
Concha Aquaponic Solutions won this year’s Sabin prize. The startup uses a sustainable system to raise White Pacific shrimp and grow red microalgae. According to Gracie White ’16, chief strategist for Concha, incorporating a small amount of the seaweed into cattle feed can reduce the cattle’s methane emissions by up to 99 percent.
“They hit every single category at a high level,” said Liddy Karter SOM ’84, managing director at Enhanced Capital Partners and one of the five judges for the Sabin Prize.
Nick Johnson SPH ’22, co-founder of Concha, said his project might have been possible only at a place like Yale.
Other finalist startups included Real Impact Tracker, a project that rates the social and environmental impact of investment funds; DroneFlow, a machine-learning platform that seeks to make drones better at identifying issues such as crop blights; and Alector LLC, which works to connect railways with renewable energy by constructing large-scale solar projects.
Farouq Ghandour ’18, who helped found Alectro LLC, said that preparing for the pitch was a valuable experience. In addition to recognizing Walker’s support, he said Julie Vance, a communications coach from Executive Voice, was a significant source of help, even though his team did not ultimately win.
Walker said Startup Yale’s mission was not only to reward groups with funding but also to increase student engagement with entrepreneurship at various levels. Outside of the pitch events, Startup Yale hosted talks and lunches focused on women in startups and social innovators, she said.
Many of those involved noted the strong influence of innovation on Yale’s campus. Karter commended Yale for its progress fostering entrepreneurial opportunities. Ghandour, who began at Yale in 2016 as a transfer student from Iowa State University, recalled that soon after arriving on campus, he “realized the plethora of resources available.”
Snackpass, a food ordering app popular with undergraduates, took home the Miller Prize.
Tommy Martin | firstname.lastname@example.org