Zero-waste startup wins $20,000 from Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge at ASU

Small Business Stories

Three social entrepreneurship startups competed on February 15th for the $20,000 prize of the Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey Business School. The competition was held in a partnership between W.P. Carey and the Pakis Center for Business Philanthropy at ACF (Arizona Community Foundation).

Each team had eight minutes to present a pitch to a three-judge panel. The teams needed to cover a list of questions in their pitch, including information on their business models and plans to use the prize money. Fred Pakis, Don Goldman, and Steve McConnell were the judges.

Pakis was the co-founder and CEO of JDA Software in Scottsdale from 1985 until 2000 and has been the managing director at Clarendon Capital Management LLC in Paradise Valley since then. He is also the chairman of the Pakis Family Foundation. Goldman is a Certified Public Accountant and professor at ASU specializing in taxation.

The three teams were chosen in November in the first round of the competition and given $7500 after submitting short videos explaining their business. The teams then met with the judges and received feedback that they used to enhance their pitches for the final round.

The winner, zero-waste consulting service Circle Blue, is made up of three graduate students at ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability: Eric Johnson, Sean Murray and Daniel Velez. The startup helps local, small to medium-sized nonprofits, businesses, and other organizations divert as much of their waste as possible into recycling and compost. They also teach the community how to reduce consumption and reuse items to avoid waste in the first place.

The process starts with the team visiting the location and conducting waste audits, meaning they dig through the facilities’ trash and find out what’s going into the trash and how much of it could be recycled or composted. Then they study the community’s culture and develop a strategy to propel them toward zero waste. The strategy can include providing educational activities and tools for recycling and composting.

Circle Blue has already partnered with Native American Connections (NAC) and the City of Tempe. NAC is an affordable housing community located in Tempe. Circle Blue has conducted cost-benefit analyses in all 16 of NAC’s buildings and found ways for them to save money by diverting waste.

The team is currently 2 percentage points away from achieving zero waste at Tempe Academy middle school. The Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of zero waste is 90 percent of waste being diverted. Circle Blue recently began working with Laird Elementary School with the same goal of zero waste in mind.

“I think the money validates all of the hard work we’ve put in for two years, and it feels really good to see the hard work pay off and then reap the benefits,” Daniel Velez said. “The money’s going to be used to scale the current projects that we’re already involved with—one of those being Tempe School District 3 and then Native American Connections.” The team is currently in their social engagement phase in the communities of two schools in the school district and three properties at NAC, and they plan to expand to all properties in each group.

Runner-up startup PCs for Refugees was awarded $10,000 in the competition. They collect donated laptops, install educational software on them, and distribute them to local refugee families. Their goal is to help refugees learn English and get jobs more quickly than they could without convenient Internet access.

Third-place Solar Water Solutions received $5,000. The team replaces hand water pumps with solar-powered pumps in Zimbabwe to give the community easier access to water.

All three groups received acceptance into SEED SPOT, a Phoenix nonprofit focused on entrepreneurship that provides workspace and mentorship to local startups.


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