VERMILLION, S.D. – Four University of South Dakota students will travel to Boston on March 13 and 14 to present their idea to start a business that has a positive impact on the planet. This is the second time two members of the four-person winning team will compete at the regional summit for the Hult Prize, an international competition that challenges teams of college students to tackle a pressing social problem. The winning team will earn $1 million in start-up funds. The year’s Hult Prize challenge was entitled “Building Startups That Have A Positive Impact on Our Planet with Every Dollar Earned.”
Brigit Blote, a sustainability major, is a member of Threads of Green, the team that earned first place in an on-campus competition in December 2019. She also was a member in one of the two USD teams that participated at a Hult Prize regional summit last year.
“When we got to regionals last year, it was a huge shock and really eye-opening to the things that young people are doing around the world to impact the environment,” Blote said. “Last year really prepared us. We’ve really upped our game in presentation skills and on the business side.”
Threads of Green’s business proposal for the 2020 competition is the development of a mobile application that can help users search for second-hand clothing on numerous online fashion thrifting sites. “I’m passionate about sustainable fashion and the ethics of the fashion industry from an environmental and social aspect,” Blote said.
Her team hopes to reduce waste and save resources by helping individuals extend the life of clothing items. “There are many online thrift shops right now that are selling very similar products and it’s kind of congested and difficult to navigate," said Blote. "Our app is kind of a TripAdvisor for online thrifting. If you were looking for a green blazer, for example, you could search for it in our search engine and it would draw green blazers from all of the online stores.”
The app, called Forget Me Not, will generate income by partnering with online thrift stores and receiving a portion of the sales generated through the app. Other members of the Threads of Green are Morgan Eikanger (medical biology), Payton Ryz (medical biology) and Ashlynn Atwood (health sciences). Atwood also participated in last year’s regional Hult Prize competition with Blote.
The USD’s Hult Prize campus coordinator is medical biology and graphic design major Katie Brust, who also competed last year with another team at a Hult Prize regional summit. Mentoring the team are two of the five on-campus judges who evaluated the teams that competed on campus in December: Meghann Jarchow, associate professor and chair of the Department of Sustainability & Environment, and Greg Bertsch, an instructor in the Beacom School of Business. The other judges were Dallas Doane, program coordinator for University Honors; Aron Spencer, director of the innovation and entrepreneurship program at the Beacom School of Business; and Matt Willard, associate professor of business administration at Augustana University.
Blote said USD’s participation in the annual international competition places the university among some of the top institutions in the world. “In our first group last year, we were up against Yale, Princeton and the University of Ohio,” she said. “I have a lot of pride in this state and this university and I think it’s really cool that we are able to be there with Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities.”