Events & Media: Eco-E Semi-finals

UCSB Grad Students Reach Semi-Finals of Entrepreneurship Competition
They hope to establish a new business that would help “green” the fashion industry by leading designers to sustainably produced fabrics

Santa Barbara, CA – A team of master’s students from the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara has been named a semi-finalist in the International Business Model Competition (BMC) hosted by Brigham Young University’s top-ranked Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology.

Morgan Furst, Amanda Lindsay and Alex Silvester, who created the business model for “Forget-Me-Not Sourcing” through their participation in the Bren School’s Eco-Entrepreneurship (Eco-E) focus, will travel to BYU to present their project at the semi-finals on Feb. 2. Advancement to the semi-final round earned the team $2,000 to pilot their project. An additional $10,000 will be awarded to the winning team.

“We are thrilled to have one of our Eco-E Project teams recognized in an international competition that is perfectly aligned with our new Eco-E curriculum – which is all about customer discovery and business-model development,” said Bren School Eco-E program manager and lecturer Emily Chan. “And, of course, we are very proud of the Forget-Me-Not Sourcing team for the agility they have shown through the business-model development process, as well as their obvious passion and determination to bring more sustainability to the fashion industry.”

According to the BMC website, the competition “represents a shift in the entrepreneurial paradigm, rewarding university students for undergoing the process of identifying and validating their assumptions and learning what the customer really wants rather than what the entrepreneur thinks the customer wants, [and] rather than writing business plans or selling hot air.”

Creating a business model forces would-be entrepreneurs to think less about a product they want to push to customers, and more about identifying customer  needs and developing a product based on those criteria. The dynamic process involves testing assumptions and then adjusting or redirecting as lessons are learned along the way.

Forget-Me-Not Sourcing would facilitate the use of sustainable fabrics by providing designers with information and connecting them with manufacturers of textiles made in a way that is both environmentally sustainable and incorporates the tenets of environmental justice, such as healthful working conditions and fair pay and living conditions for those who employed in the textile industry.

The idea for the start-up came to Furst after she heard a representative from the outdoor-company Patagonia discuss sustainability in the apparel industry.

“I knew it was a good idea, but it was hard to imagine taking on the $1.3 trillion dollar industry on my own,” she said. “I was so happy when Amanda and Alex joined me, because I really wanted to develop a business model to show the world that sustainable fashion was more than beige hemp, that it could be bright and beautiful.

“I’ve learned a lot through the process, and it has changed how I look at a business or try to solve a problem,” said Silvester, whose focus is supply chain management and agriculture associated with the fibers that become fabric. “I’m looking forward to meeting other teams at the competition in Utah, sharing what worked and what they’ve learned and then moving our idea to the next level.”

“We’re really excited, because the contest is not based on eco-ventures,” said Lindsay, whose strength is understanding the social, regulatory and environmental-justice aspects of the industry. “So it was great to see that our business could meet the needs of customers and be considered financially viable while considering the environment, too. Maybe the other entrepreneurs will start thinking about these issues, too.”

The team received word of their selection for the BMC semi-finals shortly after they also won the four-team Bren School Net Impact New Venture Competition, held at Bren Hall January 20. (The two competitions are not related.) Creating a business model is one option for a capstone project that students can complete to meet the Bren School’s master’s-degree requirements.

“I’m just so thrilled that we have made it this far,” Furst said. “We have spent months toiling over the business model. Now it feels like our ideas are being validated by the experts. We are looking forward to seeing how much farther we can advance in these competitions. Mostly, we are just happy to have two more opportunities to share our passion for fashion!”

The field of nine semi-finalist teams at BMC (including one alternate) includes five teams from BYU and one each from the Bren School, Harvard University, UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan.