Apr 18, 2023
Aligning profit with impact was at the heart of the first Sustainable-X Showcase held at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business on March 31, 2023. Sustainable-X is a partnership of CREATE-X and the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business, and a Sustainability Next Georgia Tech Strategic Plan initiative. It promotes positive impact through environmental and social impact startups that address the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable-X Co-director Andre Calmon (assistant professor of operations management) said, “We hope to accelerate the Georgia Tech ecosystem that supports the development of innovative ventures that align profits with positive social and environmental impact.”
The leadership team for Sustainable-X includes Scheller College of Business faculty and staff: co-directors Andre Calmon and Karthik Ramachandran (Dunn Family Professor), advisor Beril Toktay (Brady Family Chair and Regents’ Professor), and program manager Kjersti Lukens (program support coordinator for the Center).
Since its launch in November 2022, Sustainable-X has worked toward its goal of injecting energy into the community of sustainable startups through a variety of offerings. A two-day bootcamp focused on problem framing and ideation exercises to help participants design solutions. At monthly Sustainable-X Hangouts, attendees can learn about climate tech and environmental and social entrepreneurship, get resources for their projects, and meet individuals from different backgrounds in order to develop well-rounded teams. Additionally, participants receive mentorship from entrepreneurs and Georgia Tech faculty who are eager to see the next generation of business leaders and changemakers succeed. All of this year’s activities have built up to the Showcase. The top three teams won cash prizes and the chance to join the CREATE-X Startup Launch program this summer.
Out of 30 strong applications for the Showcase submitted by teams from all six Georgia Tech colleges, six teams were selected to pitch their ideas. Teams gave five-minute presentations and answered questions from the judges, Chris Klaus, Bill Nussey, Dori Pap, Rahul Saxena, and Savannah Seydel. Teams were judged across four categories: 1) business value; 2) novelty, creativity, and feasibility; 3) environmental impact; and 4) presentation.
First Prize: WheelChariot (Tori Stopford and Gabriel Jones)
How can disabled individuals find out if a business is accessible? WheelChariot aims to help the underserved community of people with disabilities. The team’s goal is to revolutionize the way businesses are rated and reviewed by focusing on their accessibility for people with disabilities.
Second Prize: Raccoon Eyes (Bruce Tan and Ivan Zou)
How can university dining halls reduce food waste? Raccoon Eyes aims to save money for dining managers and curtail methane gas emissions from food waste. Raccoon Eyes is a trash can extension that collects data and asks for feedback at the point of waste to improve dining operations.
Third Prize: In Good Company (Amanda Shojaee and Sarah)
How can business owners resolve labor shortages while leveraging a historically overlooked candidate pool? In Good Company helps businesses implement inclusive employment practices and improve retention rates. Solutions serve both employers in need of labor and employment seekers in need of the proper accommodations to succeed on the job.
Team Member: Usman Jamal
How can EMS critical care be delivered more swiftly? Time is of the essence during a medical emergency. Reflex delivers life-saving medical equipment via drones within the critical intervention period of an emergency incident.
Team: TBD Aerospace
Team Members: Benjamin Jiras, Karsten Caillet, Cayden Shaffer, and Ethan Gutierrez.
How can firefighting efforts be improved? Wildfires are a significant problem globally, but traditional aerial firefighting methods are often inadequate. TBD Aerospace aims to develop a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles that can help to solve this problem without posing a risk to human pilots.
Team: Therapy Sense
Team Members: Adithya Mohanavel, Gayathri Rajakumar, Sanjana Vijay Ganesh, Jagriti Sikka, and Richard Rex.
How can students’ mental health needs be addressed more efficiently? University health centers are struggling to keep up with the increasing demand for counseling services. In order to solve the supply and demand problem, Therapy Sense provides comprehensive and personalized AI therapy solutions to college students who are facing mental health challenges.
The Raccoon Eyes team expressed that presenting their idea in front of industry experts validated their efforts. They continued, “The advice we got and will continue to get from the program directors, Karthik Ramachandran and Andre Calmon, has been invaluable and will help our business strategy moving forward. The prize from the showcase gave us funds to build more units and continue iterating our minimum viable product (MVP).”
For the WheelChariot team, the first prize winnings mean they can take their startup “to the next level.” The team reflected, “At our core is accessibility, especially for our platform. With our winnings and investment, we want to work with an expert in designing accessible platforms to make sure that our website and forthcoming app are easy for our community to use. We’re so grateful that the judges believe in the future success of WheelChariot and are as committed to making our world a more accessible place.”
Scheller College of Business has a vision of being a top school in research, education, and inclusive innovation. As such, Toktay remarked, WheelChariot’s success offers “a nicely congruent outcome.” She continued, “I’m delighted that the first-prize winner is an exemplar for inclusive innovation, with a compelling business idea that addresses the needs of people with disabilities.”
Ramachandran stated that Sustainable-X is committed to the mission of creating a more sustainable future. He said, “We plan to use the success of the Showcase as a springboard to launch the next generation of sustainable innovators. The event was a success thanks to the support of Sustainable-X’s partners and stakeholders. In the coming months, the initiative will grow its network and identify opportunities for further progress."
Interested in getting involved?
- Visit the Sustainable-X website to learn more. The program is hosted by Georgia Tech but serves the state of Georgia and is open to students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members.
- Join one of the Sustainable-X Hangout events. The next Hangout will take place on April 26 (click here to register). Hangouts are informal meetings where participants can chat about their ideas and pitches and get feedback from peers and the co-directors.
- Join the Sustainable-X’s growing community on Slack and stay connected with like-minded builders and entrepreneurs! Please use this link to join.
- Use this link to sign up for the Sustainable-X newsletter.
Written by Jennifer Holley Lux. Photographs by Joya Chapman.