Better Business, For Good

Winning team members and judges

(Pictured above: Students of the winning teams, Kelli Early, Anna Dasilva, Erika Floyd, and Ben Wall, with local entrepreneurs who judged the competition, Kimberly Hunter, Laura McCann Ramsey, Tom Ryan, and Bradley Cain)

Building a successful business isn’t only about making money—at least, not for students who take UNC Asheville’s social entrepreneurship class, Ideas to Action.

Their business ideas also aim to solve problems, create change, or improve our quality of life.

Of course, coming up with a great idea is just the first step. The seven teams who competed in UNC Asheville’s third annual Social Entrepreneurship Competition also pitched their business plans to a panel of judges comprised of local entrepreneurs from a variety of industries.

The judges weren’t shy about challenging the teams. To see if these businesses could be viable in the real world, the judges asked tough questions about target markets, revenue projections, return on investments, and other logistics.

The two winning teams had a similar goal: repurpose waste in innovative ways.

Management major Ben Wall drew inspiration from something most of us do everyday—throw food away. “My partner and I, like many millennials, have a great concern about the environmental impact of human activity. […] I have always been frustrated with the culture of wastefulness in the developed world and believe that our environmental impact can be greatly reduced via solutions hiding right under our noses, or in this case in our waste bins and septic tanks,” Wall explained.

Wall worked with teammate Erika Floyd on their business proposal, Biomod, an in-home biogas generator that collects household organic waste and converts it into energy, simultaneously reducing a household’s waste production and energy consumption. Biomod placed second in the competition.

First-place winners Anna Dasilva and Kelli Early are also passionate about reusing a different kind of waste that carries a stigma: feminine products.

Each year, about 17 billion used tampons and pads accumulate in landfills. Dasilva and Early’s business, TerraFemme, will sell bins and provide a pick-up service to sustainably decompose menstrual waste into organic compost. The compost will then be heated at high temperatures and turned into fertile topsoil that will be sold to local gardens and landscapers, “ultimately recycling our menstrual cycle,” said the team.

Professor of Management Mary Lynn Manns leads Ideas to Action. Students from all majors bring their unique perspectives, knowledge and skill sets together to take an interdisciplinary approach to building for-profit businesses that address social and environmental challenges.

Dasilva, an applied mathematics major with minors in neuroscience and environmental studies, took the class to challenge her creative side. “Math is great for analytical thinking and problem solving; however, it's a discipline that follows rules and formulas to get to the exact answer. [With] entrepreneurship, on the other hand, [...] coming up to the wrong answer (multiple times) is the key for your business to succeed!”

Other ideas presented at the competition included Camp Life, a month-long program that teaches the basics of adulthood, like how to balance a budget or change a tire; Growing Minds, a home aquaponics system designed to help children develop a connection to the food they eat; Petscription, a weekly delivery of healthy pet food; Toddler Tracker to protect children in daycare; and Apollo, an art studio that helps artists become successful through the development of business skills.

While the winning teams will receive funding to bring their business plans to life, all of the participants gained valuable, real-world experience.

As Dasilva summed up, “For me, this class has really inspired me to make a difference in the world. I always felt that individuals, although with good intentions, would have a difficult time making the changes necessary to inspire change. After this course, I feel that I, as an individual, have the tools to make a difference in my community, that in turn will help make even greater changes to the rest of the world.”

For more information about UNC Asheville's Ideas to Action class, contact Dr. Mary Lynn Manns at manns@unca.edu.