Abigael Pertet, Emilio Soberon Bravo, Eloise Bevan and Maarten Van Den Ancker were recently announced the winners of our most recent sustainable business idea competition, each winning £1,000 to further develop their businesses.

Run in partnership with Edinburgh Innovations, the biannual competition is aimed at student entrepreneurs with climate and sustainability centric startup ideas that have the potential to alleviate climate challenges and drive the transition to a just net zero future.

Earth Enterprise Officer Sarah Gibben announcing the winners of the competition

Applicants had four categories to choose from for their idea: Sustainable Land and Seas, the Future of Energy, Health in a Warming World, and other Sustainable/ Climate Solutions. These categories form the core pillars for climate research and innovation at the University of Edinburgh.

In the Health in a Warming World category, Abigael Pertet won with her business idea, KENDA. KENDA aims to solve the major issue of malnutrition in Kenyan communities by reviving the cultivation and consumption of African Indigenous Vegetables. These indigenous vegetables are an affordable, highly nutritious food source which naturally adapt to local climatic conditions, reducing reliance on pesticides and increasing biodiversity of farmland.

With the £1,000 prize money, KENDA plan to finish the setup of their community seed banks which will provide local farmers with a supply of indigenous crop seeds. KENDA will also provide training to these local farmers to allow them to efficiently grow and obtain the full nutritional value of these crops.

Emilio Soberon Bravo won the Future of Energy category with his business idea, Balends. Balends aims to alleviate energy poverty through its battery swapping services for consumers. The solution enables off-grid home electrification for consumers, by allowing them to exchange charged and discharged batteries. Emilio has already sought out potential customers who are looking to decentralise their energy use and simultaneously move to renewable sources. In the long term, the business seeks to create access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy for everyone.  Emilio plans to use the funding to develop a prototype and conduct further user testing.

In the Sustainable Land and Seas category, Eloise Bevan won with her software solution that seeks to predict and optimise carbon sequestration from biomass. Eloise was inspired by her PhD research in the School of Engineering to develop this idea into a business. Her software is aimed at companies working in the biomass industry to allow them to predict the amount of sequestered carbon from their biomass. This will then allow these companies to reduce their carbon footprint and profit from their waste. Eloise has already developed the model for the carbon sequestration prediction process.

She is now planning to use the funding and mentorship provided by the competition to validate the model and to collaborate with a software developer to create a prototype.

The final category was focused on other climate or sustainable solutions, which encouraged climate action solutions that did not fit into the above themes. The winner of this category was Maarten Van Den Ancker with his idea for an artificial intelligence guided RNA aptamer design tool for biosensors. This idea aims to utilise cutting-edge machine learning algorithms to accelerate the RNA aptamer design process, which is ordinarily time consuming, expensive, laborious, and relatively inefficient. These RNA aptamers are used in biosensors which monitor human-generated environmental contaminants including greenhouse gases, drug metabolites, pesticides, herbicides, and industrial pollutants. Maarten is currently in the process of developing a prototype to test the algorithm on experimental and simulated data.

The winners were announced at an awards ceremony where attendees also heard from speaker Adam Harris who is CEO and Co-founder of Myriad Wind. Adam is a renewable energy researcher at the University of Edinburgh who, alongside his co-founders, is developing a multi-rotor wind turbine which is more cost effective to manufacture and has higher energy capacity than conventional wind turbines. Myriad Wind have received an Innovate UK grant and funding from The University’s in-house venture investment fund, Old College Capital, to develop their turbine. At the announcement Adam shared his entrepreneurial journey with our students, helping to inspire the next generation of climate innovators at the University of Edinburgh.

Sarah Gibbens, Earth Enterprise Officer, said: “Our incredible student entrepreneurs are working to have a major positive impact through managing and mitigating climate and environmental change. We are delighted to support the students at the University of Edinburgh who are developing innovative and ground-breaking solutions for a healthier planet.”