Global Entrepreneurship Week was hopping at The Mill! On November 17, we kicked off the day with Elevate Ventures Nexus Regional Southern Pitch Competition, then went straight into the IEDC’s Happy Hour to launch the Entrepreneurship Yearbook, and wrapped up the night with four pitches from our latest participants in Mill Cohorts:
- Alenna Zweiback: CERO
- Brady Anderson: ProspectXR
- Drushya Musham: NiCE
- Samuel Shierloh and Brendan Devine: Solesca
Mill Cohorts is our six-week, small-group pre-accelerator program to help startups hone their skills, connect to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and get ready for programs like gBETA. Head of Accelerator Programming Andy Lehman works closely with founders on product-market fit, metrics and KPIs, and financials.
The IU students in our fall cohort are launching some pretty incredible businesses. Three of the presenting startups tackle huge problems like how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, empower decentralized organizations, or increase solar energy. The fourth zooms in on a different scale, focusing on a tiny, personal piece of beauty and a private one-to-one message. We were inspired by all of them!
CERO: Turbocharging Cap and Trade to Reduce Emissions
Alenna Zweiback and Nico Carrillo, founders of CERO, want to make the cap and trade process more transferable, transparent, and accountable for states, governments, and municipalities. If you didn’t know, cap and trade (C/T) is a market-based solution for reducing carbon dioxide output. Emissions are capped, and organizations with unused capacity can sell it to those who need more. It’s used in 35 countries (13 states in the US) and the entire European union. C/T auction revenue in August 2021 reached $1 billion.
C/T can drive reductions in emissions. But it doesn’t work everywhere and isn’t efficient, for these reasons, says Alenna:
- Big infrastructure—Systems to create, manage, trade, track, and redeem credits require big investment.
- No interoperability—An unused credit in the EU can’t be sold into US markets.
- Only for the big—Only big players can participate.
Carbon allowances are an abstraction, representing ownership of an intangible. So CERO’s solution uses proof-of-stake Ethereum sidechain NFT tokens. Each token will represent an allowance for a metric ton of carbon dioxide. CERO’s solution is thus:
- Tradeable—Trades can be executed near-instantly, with no legal or contract work.
- Auditable—Transaction history is stored on-chain.
- Interoperable—Standard allowances enable allowances purchased in the EU to be redeemed in the US (with some caveats).
Amazed by how sophisticated this student startup is? Hold our beer.
ProspectXR: Building Community in a Decentralized Metaverse
Brady Anderson cofounded ProspectXR with Zack Kearnan and Tyler Hayik in 2021. Prospect to builds tools for businesses, communities and individuals to create and manage 3D virtual environments. The ProspectXR team sees community as critical to widespread adoptions of VR and the realization of a decentralized metaverse.
Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are communal by nature. There is no top-down authority. Instead, members work together in the best interest of the entity, using logically coded agreements and code structures to automate decisions based on member votes. ProspectXR’s flagship product Respect meets their needs by offering reputation-tracking capabilities that can be integrated via an API or blockchain. ProspectXR is also developing Single Object Viewmode, a real-time collaborative space for users to hyperfocus on a single 3D object in VR.
ProspectXR is developing rapidly since receiving a $20,000 investment from Elevate Ventures’ Community Innovation Fund earlier this year. Brady and his team launched their codebase this fall, and it’s already being used by multiple Discord communities.
NiCE: Capturing Big Moments in Small Capsules
Sophomore Drushya Musham started experimenting with what she calls “micro art” in high school: writing tiny messages on a grain of rice. Today, her jewelry business NiCE turns a neat profit using micro art to help customers send quirky personal messages in the form of personalized pendants. A piece of jewelry from NiCE tells a tiny story, shares a private joke, or expresses love, regret, or even a little snark, from giver to recipient.
NiCE’s online store is already up and running, getting over 200 visits a week and boasting a 30% conversion rate. Customers choose what word or phrase they’d like Drushya to write on the grain of rice, then select beads and accessories to personalize each piece. Their unique micro-stories range from serious to flirty to silly to mysterious, such as “I LOVE YOU” “BRUH” “MADE YOU LOOK” and “SONDER.”
Make no mistake, there’s big business in micro art. NiCE turns a very nice 85% profit. And while there’s a lot of competition in the $5 billion serviceable obtainable market Drushya’s going after, there’s also a lot of room to carve out her own space. She’s working on pop-up shops, and already collaborates with organizations like the Boys & Girls Club to bring the fun of designing necklaces to kids. She’s also got exciting plans to expand to seeds. When a NiCE seed is planted, a private message will grow into a tangible, living expression of connection.
Drushya’s work reminds us that at the end of the day, customers are humans, each with a unique story to share.
Solesca: Building a Sustainable Planet With Agrivoltaics
Samuel Shierloh and Brendan Devine, founders of Solesca, are passionate about fostering a more sustainable planet, reducing the impact of global warming, and preventing climate change through renewable energy. Their software helps solar developers optimize their next project site via agrivoltaics, the co-location of solar and crops.
Why is this important? Solar panels create a microclimate underneath them that varies based on location. But traditional utility-scale solar software companies don’t have the crop science required to design an agrivoltaic project, and consultants are expensive. Solesca’s photovoltaic energy simulations and crop shading simulations allow solar developers to compare what a land parcel would look like with a traditional utility-scale solar project versus an optimized agrivoltaic site.
Sam and Brendan got the idea for Solesca when Brendan was studying mechanical engineering at Harvard and Sam was studying finance and sustainable business at Indiana University. At the first agrivoltaic stakeholder meeting hosted by the SCAPES program out of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, they connected with solar developers, farmers and research institutions to interview on needs and opportunities. In May of this year, Sam and Brendan began working full-time on Solesca’s software. A month later, they presented the MVP at the Large Scale Solar conference in Austin. They also led a Q&A session with Kevin Campbell, the Director of Development at EDF Renewables North America, one of the largest solar developers in the world. That conference validated the demand for their software and provided feedback they needed to truly make the software irresistible to developers.
Sam and Brendan have a strategic plan on how to become the leader in agrivoltaics data and continuously improve the platform. Solesca is currently on an application for the Department of Energy’s FARMS grant along with NREL, Lightstar (Solar Developer), and the American Farmland Trust. Lightstar will be installing five agrivoltaic locations in New York and Illinois, regardless of the DOE’s decision.