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U of M student start-ups win 2015 Acara Challenge with innovative impact ventures

Student-run impact ventures focused on solar-powered microgrids for rural India and environmentally friendly feminine hygiene products have been selected Gold Level winners of the 2015 Acara Challenge, a competition held by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in partnership with the College of Science and Engineering and the Carlson School of Management. The top-level teams and other awardees will have the opportunity and resources to further develop their innovative business solutions for environmental and social challenges.

The challenge was divided into a domestic and an international division, each with gold, silver, and bronze levels. Gold Level winners will receive $1,000 toward pilot expenses. Silver Level honorees will receive $750 and Bronze Level recipients get $500. Winning teams on all three levels also receive individual scholarships to the Acara Spring Institute in St. Paul or Summer Institute in Bangalore, India. Select ventures are also invited to receive up to $5,000 in additional funding to pilot their idea.

“We are very impressed with the creativity and commitment to change embodied in these projects and glad to have the opportunity with the help of our generous funders to incubate the winning start-ups over the coming year as they develop their venture plans into operational social enterprises, generating revenue and impact in Minnesota and abroad,” said Acara co-director Fred Rose of the Institute on the Environment.

“These students are passionate about launching new ideas to have a positive impact on the world; we are pleased to be able to recognize and support their ideas,” said Acara co-director Julian Marshall, a professor in the College of Science and Engineering.

The Acara Challenge, which began in 2009, spurs start-ups with creative, sustainable solutions that can have an impact in the real world.

The 2015 Acara Challenge winners are:

Domestic Division

Ova Woman
This online retail and marketing company sells menstrual cups and fashionable absorbent underwear, helping to reduce the burden of feminine hygiene products on landfills. The initiative is led by Elise Maxwell, a student in the Carlson School of Management.

City Compost MN*
This Minneapolis waste processing company cuts trash volume and creates a valuable end product that is missed by current systems. The team is led by Peter Schmitt, a student pursuing a dual degree from the Carlson School of Management and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Katie Schmitt.
*Crowd Favorite – Domestic Division

For marginalized job seekers who need career experience, Autonomee is TaskRabbit for software development. The initiative is led by Steven Bruce, a student in the Carlson School of Management.

InCOLOR Magazine
This online multimedia magazine is designed to serve as a voice for the various multicultural and inner-city communities. The initiative is led by Tiffany Trawick, a student from the College of Liberal Arts.

Minnetonka Local
This venture offers business development and retail support to encourage lower-income entrepreneurs, increasing local products and services while building community engagement. The team is led by Alana Buckner, a student in the Carlson School of Management.

Honorable Mentions
The BDW Blog
With an aim to close the gap between public option and scientific consensus, the BDW Blog provides a neutral, impartial voice. The team includes students Adam Woodruff (College of Science and Engineering), Yogesh Dhande (College of Science and Engineering), Josh Magnuson (Carlson School of Management), Joanna Mooney (College of Biological Sciences) and Thomas Harris (Bowling Green State University).

Knack is a Web-based business that seeks to tap the potential of young adults to address social issues affecting the Midwest through local artisan product sales. The team includes students Taisha Bauer, Francesca Berarducci and Megan Zimmerman from the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

International Division

Stimulight seeks to improve the quality of life in rural India through the use of clean and reliable LED lights driven by solar-powered microgrids in place of kerosene lamps. The team includes students Robin Walz and Vicky Ong from the College of Science and Engineering.

Apis Krishi*
This venture aims to help rural Indian farmers leave the cycle of poverty by promoting beekeeping education and removing the financial risk of beekeeping. The team is led by student Erin Kayser from the College of Science and Engineering.
*Crowd favorite – International Division

This business created an accessible collection service to help citizens of Bangalore responsibly recycle e-waste. The team includes students Claire Warren (College of Science and Engineering), Aika Mengi (Humphrey School of Public Affairs), Joshua Auerbach (Carlson School of Management) and Malcolm Smith (College of Science and Engineering).

Ripple helps water purification and testing companies connect their products and services with rural markets to improve health in rural communities. The team is composed of students Anna Schulte (Carlson School of Management), Emma Volbrecht (College of Science and Engineering) and Adam Iversen (College of Science and Engineering).

The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment seeks lasting solutions to Earth's biggest challenges through research, partnerships and leadership development. For more information on IonE, visit environment.umn.edu. For more information on Acara, see acara.environment.umn.edu.

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