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Financing Innovation for Net Zero Wins Bard MBA Pitch Competition, Pirates of Sargassum Place Second

Across the world, big companies are looking desperately for ways to meet their net zero global warming pollution goals. At the same time, innovative, climate solutions companies need financing. Enter FreshMint, a matchmaking marketplace designed by Bard MBA students Aaron Hedlin and Erin Seglem. According to the team, “Our ‘secret weapon’ is our focus on funding climate tech by crafting relationships between corporations interested in decarbonization with start-up technology that may play a critical role in future decarbonization” 

Aaron and Erin developed this idea in the Bard MBA’s fall 2023 entrepreneurship course, pitching it in the program’s annual Disrupt to Sustain competition in December. The pair walked away with the $3500 prize, and are looking to spring conferences that attract corporates with net zero commitments and climate start-ups to start testing the viability of the company.

Meanwhile, Danielle Black and Mark Rhoads focused on a different ecological problem: beach-destroying invasions of sargassum seaweed on Caribbean beaches. Sargassum growth in the Atlantic has exploded due to nutrient loading from agricultural run-off, choking both marine life and tourism. Mark and Danielle’s proposed company, Pirates of the Sargassum, intends to harvest the sea-weed just off-shore, and process it for use in cosmetics and as an agricultural fertilizer. The team placed second, winning $2,500.

Twenty one Bard MBA teams competed, pitching their ideas to judges drawn from the NYC financial and entrepreneurial worlds. The final round judges included Chintan Panchal, Gabriel Marks-Mulcahy (MBA ‘14) and Pratibha Vuppuluri.  

Running parallel with the Bard MBA competition, students in the fall 2023 OSUN Global Certificate Program in Sustainability and Social Enterprise program had their own global, on-line pitch event. Competing with teams from Bulgaria, the US, Kyrgyzstan, Palestine, South Africa and Ghana, the winning team was from BRAC University in Bangladesh, with a project focused on bio-leather from fruit peel waste. The impact? Traditional leather production creates massive pollution problems in Bangladesh. This team will receive a prize of $1,500 to advance their business idea. The runner up was a team from the West Bank—an amazing group of young people who somehow stayed focused on their coursework through the outbreak of war in Gaza. Their business model was powerful, and heartbreaking—Melodies for Palestine hosts performances and provides music education for children traumatized by the war. 

Radical reimagination lies at the heart of sustainable business. With soon to be ten billion people on our one planet, business has to innovate ways of producing energy, food, health care, everything, in ways that dramatically cut pollution of all kinds. At the same time, companies must build models that treat workers, communities and suppliers with justice and respect– businesses cannot be ecological leaders if they are not also socially responsible. One each year, and twice for each student during their graduate course of study, Bard MBA’s work in teams to develop and pitch powerful, innovative ideas for a sustainable future.

About the Author

Eban Goodstein

Eban Goodstein

Dr. Eban Goodstein is an economist and the Director of the MBA in Sustainability and the MS and MEd programs at the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College. He is known for organizing national educational initiatives on climate change, which have engaged thousands of schools and universities, civic institutions, faith groups, and community organizations in solutions-driven dialogue. Goodstein is the author of three books and numerous journal articles focused on climate change, sustainability and green jobs.