Events & Media

Two Eco-E Teams Head for Major Business Competition
InGrain and Fruit Forward to be tested on their ability to respond to market signals

By Lily Tsukayama

Two Eco-Entrepreneurship (Eco-E) projects, InGrain and Fruit Forward, will compete in the semi-final round of the 4th Annual LeanModel Start-up Competition, to be held March 4-5 at San Diego State University.


Fruit Forward (from left) Jessica Sexton and Summer Broeckx-Smith.

Twenty teams of undergraduate and graduate students will be judged on various criteria, including how well their plans address consumer demand and how effectively the teams “pivot” in response to customer feedback and changes in the marketplace. Each team will give a 10-minute public presentation explaining their business model and how it has pivoted based on customer interviews. The competition will take place just a week after both Bren School teams will have defended their Master’s Projects before their respective Bren faculty panels, but they say they’re ready.

“It’s a busy time, but we’re feeling good,” says Talia Ibarguen (MESM 2016), who with her teammates, Terra Alpaugh and Cameron Dunning (both MESM 2016), make up InGrain. They are using the spent grain from the craft-beer brewing process to create sustainable packaging and brand-enhancing products for the industry. “We’ve gone through a few iterations of our business model so far and are very familiar with the process of integrating consumer data,” explains Ibarguen, addressing one of the main competition criteria.


Ingrain members (from left) Cameron Dunning, Talia Ibarguen, and Terra Aplaugh.

Also primed for the competition are Summer Broeckx-Smith and Jessica Sexton (both MESM 2016), who make up the Fruit Forward team. They are developing a business model in which they use organic grape skins and seeds left over from winemaking to increase the health benefits and shelf life of cold-pressed juice. “This business-model process is exactly what we’ve been trained in through Eco-E,” says Broeckx-Smith.

When the groups arrive in San Diego, they will be assigned a mentor, likely an investor or a business professional. The groups prepare for the competition by rehearsing their pitch presentations with their mentor and receiving feedback. “I’m really looking forward to getting feedback from professionals outside of Bren and getting a better idea of how we stand in relation to other student business plans and models,” says Broeckx-Smith.

Bren Eco-E teams are unique in that their business models have to be based on environmental benefits and sustainability. In competitions and presentations outside of Bren, it is crucial for them to describe the connection between environment and commerce. “It can often be an added challenge to market environmental benefits and make that connection between sustainability and an impactful industry,” explains Ibarguen.

Despite that challenge, the environmental connection is also a valuable asset, says Broeckx-Smith: “It motivates us to listen more to our clients to make sure that our customers’ needs align with our environmental goals.”

The LeanModel Competition is a regional qualifier for the International Business Model Competition. The winner of the LeanModel Competition goes directly to the semifinal round of the competition, which will be held at Brigham Young University. Previously, the Eco-E teams Forget-Me-Not Sourcing and Smarty Pants competed in the semifinal round of the International Business Model Competition in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

“Both of the Eco-E teams that applied to this competition were accepted, which means that what we’re doing in Eco-E is working,” says Broeckx-Smith. “I’m really excited to see how we do.”