Underrepresented Students Take on the Climate Crisis by Building a Startup in Four Days
National startup hackathon hosts 50 students & awards $5,000 to the winning team
Over the weekend of March 11–14th, 2021, the inaugural 4 Day Founder (4DF) startup hackathon welcomed 50 Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) college students from 27 colleges and universities across the country, and tasked them with creating a sustainability startup in just a few days. Partnered with the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, 4 Day Founder created this startup hackathon to build a safe community for future founders of color to innovate.
Over the four-day virtual hackathon, eleven teams developed startup ideas that promote sustainability. The randomized teams brainstormed an idea, created a logo, presented an elevator pitch, researched the market, drafted a one pager, and competed in a pitch competition. The hackathon was supplemented by panel discussions with BIPOC entrepreneurs on “Being an Effective Leader,” “Financing Your Million Dollar Idea,” and “Diversity in Business.” Students attended sessions about the business model canvas, public speaking, and how to make a startup pitch deck.
The event culminated with the live pitch competition, where Eco-Quest won first place. The Grand Prize of $5,000 in cash sponsored by Billtrim, as well as a fellowship into a Founder Institute Texas virtual accelerator program, went to the members of the winning team hailing from Delaware, California, and Texas. The finalist teams presented a seven minute pitch to four finals judges during the livestreamed Final Pitch, in front of a virtual audience of over 100 fellow participants, mentors, panelists, volunteers, and friends and family.
The four-day hackathon attracted over 120 applicants from 3 countries across the world. Ultimately, the official 2021 cohort consisted of 50 students from 15 different US states. Three-fifths of the students were non-business majors, and over 70% of students identified as women. The breakdown of racial/ethnic identity included: 41% South, Southeast, or East Asian, 29% Black, African, or African American, 16% Hispanic or Latinx, 10% Biracial/Multiracial, 2% Middle Eastern or West Asian, and 2% Native American or Indigenous.
The four finalist teams were:
First Place: Eco-Quest
Eco-Quest strives to educate children and young adults about the importance of building good sustainability habits. By using a rewards system through partnerships with businesses, Eco-Quest aims to reward users who actively practice sustainable living. Team members included Paola Romero and Luan Nguyen from the University of Houston, Safia Mendez from Saint Leo University, and Citlalli Luna from California State University — Bakersfield.
Misfit was created to help combat the problem of food waste and unsustainability in the food industry. Misfit is a refrigeration unit provided in grocery stores, where consumers can access discounted produce that would otherwise be thrown away for being labeled as “ugly produce” or approaching its expiration date. Team members included Benjamin Chau and McKinley Calhoun III from the University of Houston, Jareth Lopez from Austin Community College, and Kamika Patel from University of Wisconsin — Madison.
Nextile uses a technology that recycles textile waste by extracting fibers, optimizing the existing waste, and reducing the byproduct of textile processing. Nextile strives to create a world free of textile waste by maximizing the amount of recycled material that can be harvested from thrown away clothing and landfills. Team members included Akrem Berhanu and Van Tran from the University of Houston, Precious Isidahomen from Morgan State University, Kamana Adhikari from Washburn University, and Anita Bhujel from McMurry University.
EnviroMed is an eco-friendly medical supply and shipping company that creates alternative products made of seaweed that are more environmentally friendly, designed to be biodegradable and produced, shipped, and packaged sustainably. EnviroMed strives to reduce unnecessary waste from personal protective equipment in the medical field. Team members included Sameer Huda and Abdullah Ghafoor from the University of Houston, Nancy Nguyen from Arizona State University, and Arieanna Rucker from East Carolina University.
The community of 4 Day Founder was cultivated with help from over 40 majority-BIPOC volunteers who acted as student mentors, business mentors, guest panelists, and competition judges to help the teams go from an idea to a startup in just a weekend. The Eco-Quest co-founders were each thankful for the great learning experience they had during the 4 Day Founder weekend.
Paola Romero, University of Houston senior, said, “I learned that in a country where BIPOC are a minority, we are all just as equally powerful, blessed with amazing strengths and ideas that can change the world.”
“I think the most valuable lessons I took away from this experience is that you can go really far if you’re not afraid to ask for help, trust your team, and have the willingness to learn,” said Luan Nguyen, University of Houston sophomore.
Safia Mendez, Saint Leo University freshman, “The sense of community and just the drive and willingness that everyone had to succeed and to help others succeed was unmatched. And so this is an experience that I will take with me wherever I go.”
“I can’t wait to implement all I’ve learned into my own business and practices. Sí se puede, y sí se pudo!” Citlalli Luna, California State University -Bakersfield junior.
With the mission to promote racial equity in entrepreneurship and share resources with future BIPOC entrepreneurs, 4 Day Founder partnered with the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship (WCE) to connect WCE mentors and curriculum to the students. The Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship is currently the #1 undergrad entrepreneurship program in the nation according to the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine. While the exclusive program is usually only accessible to the 35 University of Houston students who are accepted into the program every year, 4 Day Founder was able to make those same resources available for the 50 hackathon participants tuning in from 5 different time zones.
“The University of Houston has a rich history of promoting diversity and welcoming students and ideas from all backgrounds. This event was a perfect example of WCE’s commitment to cultivate partnerships with value-aligned organizations to promote inclusivity in entrepreneurship,” said Dave Cook, Director of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship. “Viviane Nguyen, a Wolff Center alum and Director of 4 Day Founder, brought to life the dream of creating an event for women and the BIPOC community that married innovation and entrepreneurship.”
4 Day Founder 2021 was organized by a team of current and former WCE students including Viviane Nguyen, Martin Salinas, Solida Chem and the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship’s Program Manager, Amanda Moya. The inaugural hackathon was sponsored by Billtrim, Expressworks International, Founder Institute Texas and Sticker Giant.
Expressworks International, a sponsor of 4 Day Founder 2021, said “There is promise in new ideas and an energy to the budding entrepreneur that is inspiring to be around. It’s an honor to witness and mentor that energy within this community knowing that each candidate’s success has the power to not only shape the business landscape, but the narrative around BIPOC talent as well.”
“If this first attempt is any indication of future achievement to be had, we are sure to see big things from 4 Day Founder’s partnership with WCE in the years to come,” said Cook. “Congratulations to the team of 4 Day Founder for a highly successful four-day hackathon! They crushed it!”
Upon completion of the hackathon, all 50 students were each awarded a Startup Entrepreneurship Certificate from the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship for gaining the knowledge needed to be an innovative thinker and a future entrepreneur.
“Getting to develop their entrepreneurial mindset in a collaborative setting will give these students the tools that they need to problem solve. Especially in this pandemic, which has kept us isolated, the chance to innovate and connect is just what we all need,” Director of 4 Day Founder 2021, Viviane Nguyen, said.
About 4 Day Founder (4DF)
4 Day Founder is a national four-day startup hackathon event for BIPOC college students interested in entrepreneurship. 4 Day Founder’s mission is to support racial equity in entrepreneurship & offer resources to future BIPOC entrepreneurs across the nation. Visit www.4dayfounder.com for more information and follow 4DF on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.
About the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship (WCE)
The Wolff Center, part of the Bauer College of Business in Houston, Texas, is the nation’s #1 ranked undergrad entrepreneurship program by The Princeton Review. The program prepares students to assume leadership roles in the business world, teaching them how to run their own business from the inception of an idea through its implementation. Visit www.bauer.uh.edu/wce for more information.
BillTrim is a young startup based out of California that helps individuals, as well as businesses, save a significant amount on utility and service bills. BillTrim uses top grade machine learning & artificial intelligence algorithms to negotiate on every promotion and retention deal. Visit www.billtrim.com for more information
About Expressworks International
Expressworks International is a change management consultancy dedicated to delivering sustainable change, for the better. Since 1984, they have focused on helping leading organizations, nonprofits and public institutions successfully achieve the promise of the small and sweeping transformations central to their ability to compete and contribute. Visit www.expressworks.com for more information.
About Founder Institute Texas
The Founder Institute is the world’s largest pre-seed startup accelerator, having helped launch over 4,500 companies across 200+ cities and six continents. The Founder Institute helps startups raise funding, build a co-founding team, generate traction, recruit a team, build a product, transition from employee to entrepreneur, and more. Visit https://fi.co for more information.
StickerGiant has helped businesses and individuals tell their stories through custom stickers and labels since 2000. StickerGiant strives to make it a one of a kind experience and to create a new way for your brand to get exposure. Visit www.stickergiant.com for more information.