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U Students Buck the Status Quo in 2012-13 Acara Challenge

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Spirited voices mixed with the scent of Indian spices in The Commons: Meeting and Art Space at Institute on the Environment last Monday night. Dozens of Acara students, mentors and investors were gathered for a showcase of the 2012-13 Acara Challenge contestants.

Attendees supped on fare from Gandhi Mahal and mingled with the young entrepreneurs before settling in for brief presentations on seven start-ups developed by Acara alumni. The goal of each business - in addition to viability and profit - is to address a social or environmental issue at home or abroad.

IonE director Jon Foley introduced the class of presenters, saying that, in their impassioned pursuit of new business models, students are challenging the status quo and creating new solutions to big, worldwide problems.

DSC_0576.jpgEmily Torgrimson described her nonprofit, Eat for Equity, as a means to convene a community of socially minded individuals around a home-cooked dinner while benefiting a variety of charities. Volunteers contribute by cooking, serving and cleaning, and guests pay a nominal fee to partake.

MyRain supplies drip irrigation systems to small-plot farmers in India. These farmers normally flood their fields, which is inefficient and damaging to crops, said MyRain co-founder Steele Lorenz. When Lorenz realized farmers needed more help designing their systems, MyRain created an app for retailers to design and install them. The app is now in its pilot phase and will launch later this year.

Nutricyle was founded to help alleviate the overwhelming solid waste problem in Bangalore, India. Georgia Rubenstein, Nutricycle co-founder, explained that Nutricycle is exploring various systems to introduce organic waste-to-energy solutions and composting systems in apartments.

Pragati Handicrafts connects marginalized Indian artisans to Western, socially-minded consumers, said co-founder Adam Iversen. Iversen told attendees that Pragati is partnering with seven self-help artisan groups in Orissa, India and marketing their crafts online.

Phillip Kelly described TurtleKing Longboards as a skateboard retailer that provides opportunities for Minneapolis kids to design and build their own boards. The company donates a portion of its profits to youth programming in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

Twin Fin aquaponics wants to raise fish and vegetables year-round indoors, said Eric Svingen, a co-founder of the Minneapolis-based start-up. Twin Fin aims to grow the highest quality food to supply local restaurants and CSAs.

Thumbnail image for DSC_0583.jpgBrian Krohn defined Zuri Apps as an app review and sales website that would increase the visibility and earnings for app developers. Developers can market their wares via the Zuri site by agreeing to donate a few cents from each sale, with which a different charity would be supported each month.


Find out more about Acara and how to support its work at www.acara.environment.umn.edu.

Photos courtesy of Brian Bell.

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