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Bunson Impact Investment Challenge

A Challenge of Combinations

By Dana Trismen ’15
March 25, 2014

The third annual Bunson Impact Investing Challenge at Brandeis International Business School (IBS) pitted three teams of students against each other to propose the most financially profitable—and socially sustainable—idea for a business start-up. The winning squad came through with a strategy to curtail consumption of unsafe oils in China. 

Imagine an oil company that provides a type of biodiesel fuel free of carbon emissions or solid waste discharge. How about a phone app that lists all available parking spaces in busy downtown areas and has the potential to cut down traffic? Or, finally, a website that connects motivated Chinese students who wish to study abroad with a mentor who knows the realities of U.S. universities first-hand?

These innovative proposals were brought to life by Brandeis IBS students during the event. Three groups created comprehensive projects that simultaneously strove to be socially responsible, environmentally sustainable, and economically profitable.

“It’s awesome to see people come up with ideas that are financially, socially and environmentally sustainable. It’s something we really don’t talk about enough, in my opinion,” said Jonathan Fish, MA ’14, head of Net Impact at Brandeis IBS and a second-year moderator of the event.

“It’s inspiring to see people take time out of their busy schedules to come up with such creative ideas.”

The event featured a panel of three judges that brought with them extensive experience in integrating sustainable initiatives within their business ventures. Maria Konizeski serves as senior manager for Finance and Operations at Green Century Capital Management, Inc. Brandeis IBS Adjunct Professor Warren Leon heads the Sustainability Specialization at the business school. Darby Hobbs, founder and CEO of Social3, a media/production firm focused on fusing brand and sustainability principals for asset growth, also served as a judge.  

“This is an area I had worked in for years and I’m passionate about it,” said Hobbs. “It is exciting to see students work in this area and to know that future businesses will have this focus.”

The winning team at this year’s challenge comprised a trio of students with a daunting challenge: protect Chinese citizens from ingesting unsafe oils in their food. The group, which consisted of Chen Zheng, MBA ’15, Song Sai, MSF ’14 and Yanran Wang, ’14, MA ’15, aimed to alter a troubling statistic, that the Chinese population unwittingly consumes thousands of tons of hazardous oil per year. “It has created a trust crisis; we won’t trust the restaurants, we won’t trust the industry and we won’t trust each other,” said Zheng.

To solve this pressing problem, the group proposed a biodiesel company, “Microil,” with the following aim: provide refined oil for use in restaurants and college canteens that emits zero solid waste and hazardous gasses. In the process, the conversion of unsafe oil into a more environmentally sustainable biofuel would have immense social impact for China.

The group, in order to fulfill this aim, aimed to “box out” black market competitors through government support. With that seal of integrity, Microil would have the credibility to launch a widespread, certified social media campaign. Over time, they asserted their company would increase tourist traffic, and, ultimately, profits at restaurants.

The decision to select Microil as the victorious company was unanimous. When imagination meets functionality, Bunson Challenge champions are born.