By Zoey Erdenebileg
The contest What’s the Big Idea?, sponsored by Kenyon’s Innovation Greenhouse, a division of the Career Development Office, awarded $500 to four separate business plans last month: SocialBuzz, Reserve Green, Ski ID and Aquaponics.
The winning entries “had very concrete vision[s] of what they were trying to make, and they had a very good way of presenting that information,” said Scott Gosnell, program coordinator of Innovation Greenhouse.
Zac Zaremba ’12 and Jack Whitacre ’12 plan to co-create SocialBuzz, a mobile application that proposes to connect its users with an array of compatible matches. By identifying users who are physically close to one another and notifying them of matches in their area, SocialBuzz will shift social networking away from purely virtual space. “If you’re with somebody in the same room, say you’re in MiddleGround, and your results are compatible with mine, [your phone will] vibrate. It’s in your choice to interact with them on your phone and meet that person,” Zaremba said.
SocialBuzz is part of an emerging interest in geosocial networking, where geographic services, such as GPS capabilities, expand or change social dynamics. The program works with a user’s responses to a series of questions and generates data to determine his or her compatibility with other users. When a match is within a certain range, the application buzzes, leaving the choice to initiate interaction to the user.
Possible interactions include friendship, relationships and “casual hook-ups,” Zaremba said. SocialBuzz, which Zaremba and Whitacre conceived in the library one night, is a response to what Zaremba and Whitacre both described as a gap between social interactions online and social interactions in person.
“There was this kid sitting in front of me on Facebook going through these pictures, and I was in a bunch of them,” Zaremba said. “I had no idea who this person was. It made me realize just how weird it is to have these online profiles in which we know about each other’s lives, but we don’t know each other.”
Zaremba and Whitacre hope to use social media as a tool to facilitate more personal connections between individuals. “There’s a tendency for people to get lost in their own worlds, myself included,” Whitacre said. “However, when I have reached out, it’s led to positive outcomes. This personal extension takes a type of courage, and our app will help.”
Zaremba and Whitacre plan to enter their proposal in the Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition later this semester.
Nick Gasbarro ’15 thought of the idea for his company after a long football practice. “I was really thirsty – I was drinking tons of Gatorade, tons of bottles of water. … I had probably five or six bottles and just tossed them in the trash can,” Gasbarro said. “And I thought, ‘There’s a problem with the way we recycle.'”
His winning idea, the Reserve Green bins, fuses a trash can for waste and a recycling bin for paper and plastic. The 16″-high, 13″-deep and 16″-long bin has separate compartments for garbage, recycling and paper. The Reserve Green units aim to make recycling easier and more convenient.
Reserve Green’s motto, “Conveniently changing the planet,” speaks to his conviction that if recycling is made more accessible, it will save money and reduce environmental impact. “Fifty percent of your waste is garbage. The other 50 percent is recyclable.
Right now, Kenyon specifically, and most colleges across the nation, don’t acknowledge that other 50 percent, and they’re wasting money. … [It’s] not good for the environment,” Gasbarro said.
Gasbarro’s vision is to replace every existing metal trash can in dorm rooms with one Reserve Green unit. The initial cost of the units would be recovered by the amount of money that the College will save. After testing the public response, he hopes to expand to other colleges, boarding schools and even office spaces.
The students who participated in the idea contest voted Reserve Green the best idea. Gasbarro is now creating a prototype of his idea that he plans to enter into the Business Plan Competition.
Justin Top ’14 combined his love of skiing with his hatred of the hassle that comes with it. The dangers of skiing and the existing potential to improve the experience led him to create Ski ID. Ski ID functions like a debit card tailored for avid skiers. Top said it has the potential to make ski trips more efficient, convenient and safe. “[It is] a universal ski pass,” he said.
Ski ID holds the owner’s personal identity, like a driver’s license, and medical information that would be vital in case of an accident. Moreover, it can be used to carry money, eliminating the need for cash. “Instead of having to carry everything, [people] can just carry one [thing],” Top said. “They can have [Ski ID and] their phone, and they’re good for the rest of the day.”
Besides its multifunctional approach, Ski ID simplifies the process of booking ski passes. “You go online, buy your ski pass for whatever resort, buy it ahead of time. Instead of standing in line, you can get your card scanned [and] have everything ready],” Top said.
Top is currently spending his award money on crafting a prototype card to show future investors or to enter in future competitions. He also plans to hire a designer to layout for a Ski ID website. Before entering Ski ID into the Business Plan competition next year, he will attend more Innovation Greenhouse seminars.
A New York Times article detailing a year-round sustainable method of agriculture inspired Adrian Galbraith-Paul ’12 to recreate an aquaponic system in the Greenhouse attached to Higley Hall. The new system is a fusion of hydroponics, the growing of plants without soil, and aquaculture, the raising of fish.
Galbraith-Paul’s aquaponic system explores a new method of agriculture and simultaneously scouts out a new business venture. He has already had some success in the field; he won a second-stage grant for his aquaponic system through the Ann Pickens ’85 Alumni Award.
In Galbraith-Paul’s aquaponic system, 17 tilapia continually eat, digest and excrete. The by-product travels through a system wherein billions of bacteria and worms break it down into fertilizer for the plants in the Greenhouse. “All the biological processes are happening in one place,” he said.
The system has worked well. Since Galbraith-Paul started the project in late August, his plants have flourished. Lettuce and tobacco plants, as well as those that require a lot of nitrogen, have done particularly well. “Generally, in aquaponic systems, you see plants growing around 20 to 50 percent faster than you would in soil or hydroponics,” Galbraith-Paul said.
Acquaponics is currently the most ecologically friendly method of agriculture. Everything in the fish by-product is cycled through the system, creating no waste. “I feed the fish, the fish take that food [and] grow with it and I’m going to eat the fish. Their waste is converted into food again for the plants. By the time the molecules in those food pellets are gone, they’ve been completely processed by the system,” Galbraith-Paul said.
The future of aquaponics holds promise in arid environments, where the climate is usually hot and sunny. Australia, for example, has embraced the new system because it uses 80 to 90 percent less water than previous growing methods.
Galbraith-Paul plans to enter his aquaponic system into the Business Plan Competition. If he wins, he will use the money to explore the possibility of starting his own aquaponics business after he graduates.
Emory O’Dell also won the What’s the Big Idea? contest for his product, RedCup. He declined a public interview at this time due to patent stipulations.