"Green Pieces" Group Project Wins National Competition

March 14, 2008

First Eco-Entrepreneurship Students Win National Competition

Group’s business plan for affordable, sustainable modular housing rises above field of 60.

A standing-room-only crowd was on hand March 9 at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., as members of the Bren School’s “Green Pieces” Group Project were named the winners of the 5th Annual William James Foundation Socially Responsible Business Plans Competition. The group, comprising Bren Class of 2008 MESM students Jamie Britto, Max DuBuisson, Nicole Dejonghe, Kelly Schmandt, and faculty advisor and Bren Assistant Professor of Environmental Economics Matthew Kotchen, also earned a second-place finish in the separate Sustainability Prize competition. The team will receive $5,000 in prize money, plus 25 hours of legal advice and additional complimentary marketing consultation.

Clockwise from top: Kelly Schmandt, Assistant Professor Matthew Kotchen, Jamie Britto, Nicole Dejonghe, Max DuBuisson

“The students did a really nice job of setting the course for future Group Projects in Eco-Entrepreneurship (EE),” said Kotchen. “They set the bar high while providing a great example of how to combine the Bren master’s program with ideas of eco-entrepreneurship.”

This is the first Group Project to be developed as part of EE, the year-old collaboration between the Bren School and the College of Engineering’s Technology Management Program (TMP). EE students take classes in both programs to meet the requirements of the EE focus within the Bren School’s Corporate Environmental Management specialization.

“I think the judges saw the strength of this team,” said Dejonghe. “We were cohesive, hardworking, and respectful of each other, and we worked well together. And being partnered with a well-known architectural firm helped immensely.”

The competition was open to those submitting “an idea for a for-profit business that has integrated social and/or environmental values into your business mission and bottom line.” Each group had to have at least one member who had been a student within the past decade and could not have accepted more than $5,000 in financial support. Some 60 teams entered the contest in Nov., the field was reduced to 25 in February, and the three finalists were announced Feb. 22. In Washington, each finalist delivered a five-minute presentation, followed by a question-and-answer period. The judges deliberated, then counted down the winners from third place.

“When they announced second place, we knew we’d won,” said Schmandt. “It was amazing.”

The project began in fall 2007 when New York—based architectural firm workshop/apd proposed a Group Project in which Bren students would create a business plan for a new business to build affordable sustainable modular homes. The company was founded on the principle of the “triple bottom line”: social responsibility, environmental responsibility, and financial profitability. The goal is to create modular housing that reduces costs by 15 percent and construction waste by 40 percent while allowing a home to be built in half the normal time.

Bren School Group Projects attempt to solve a specific environmental problem. In addressing the problem of green building being available primarily to those in upper income brackets, Green Pieces seeks to make environmentally friendly homes affordable to the middle-income segment and, eventually, to low-income home-buyers as well.

Bren Professor Gary Libecap, who was instrumental in starting the EE focus, described the team’s success as “a great way to kick off this new program,” adding, “Environmental issues are huge, and the solutions are going to come from entrepreneurs who think outside the box and come up with new ways of doing things. I’m delighted but not surprised at this win. It was a great team, a great idea, and a great collaboration between the Bren School and the community.”

Libecap also praised TMP Dean Gary Hansen for his part in developing and supporting the program. “We’re really fortunate that Gary and TMP are already in place,” he said. “That gave us a structure of courses to build on, and Gary has been flexible and active in this collaboration that provides a joint response to shared problems.”

“It’s great to see students whose education helps them to build and lead new businesses that will have such a positive impact on society,” said Hansen. “TMP is interdisciplinary, and for companies like this, the ability to work across different values, cultures, and organizations will be critical to their success.”

John Wilczak, a co-founder of the TMP who provided seed funding for EE, echoed the importance of collaboration across disciplines. “It says a lot about the initial vision behind the program. The nature of it is multidisciplinary. The university under Chancellor Henry Yang has embraced the multidisciplinary approach to solving problems, and the Bren School has embraced it, too. When you attract world-class faculty and students, provide them with resources, and set them loose, this is the kind of result you get.”

View the original EE press release

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