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Dheeraj Sultanian ’11 (left) and Carl P. Evans III ’11 present their winning business plan to a panel of alumni judges at the Kellogg Sustainability Challenge.

Dheeraj Sultanian ’11 (left) and Carl P. Evans III ’11 present their winning business plan to a panel of alumni judges at the Kellogg Sustainability Challenge.

Thinking green

Students pitch environmentally conscious business plans to alumni at the inaugural Kellogg Sustainability Challenge

By Sara Langen

5/14/2010 - One evening last fall, Kellogg student Carl P. Evans III ’11 came home from classes to find he’d left his lights on all day. He could hardly know when he left that morning that his forgetfulness would lead to an idea for a new business.

“I thought, ‘How much did that cost me? But more importantly, what was the environmental impact of that?’” Evans said.

With the help of friend and Kellogg classmate Dheeraj (Raj) Sultanian ’11, Evans used his professional background in robotics to develop SmartSense Power, a business concept that allows households to reduce energy waste by measuring electricity usage down to the individual device.

“I had developed a technology that I realized I could transition over to the consumer space, so I can see remotely how much money I am spending,” Evans explained. “If it’s really high, then I know I left my lights on. With Raj’s help, we evolved the idea to what we have now.”

That idea won the two JD-MBA students the $7,000 prize in the Kellogg Sustainability Challenge, a contest that took place on April 30 during the 2010 Kellogg Reunion. The two student teams, SmartSense Power and Captain Energy, pitched environmentally conscious business concepts to a panel of Kellogg alumni judges in a competition sponsored by the Social Enterprise at Kellogg Program (SEEK), the Environmental Sustainability Business Club and the McGraw Foundation.

“I think it was an outstanding competition; we had two very interesting and comprehensive plans,” said event moderator Timothy Feddersen, the Wendell Hobbs Professor of Managerial Economics & Decision Sciences and director of the SEEK program.

Evans and Sultanian “had a really clear idea of the product they were going to sell and how they were going to deliver that and make an impact,” Feddersen said. “I think it was the commitment of the two MBAs and their experience already in developing these kinds of products that was really persuasive.”

Sultanian said it was deeply satisfying to learn that the judges believed their plan is sound.

“It feels great,” he said. “This is the culmination of about six months of work. We came up with the concept in January. We’ve entered a couple of business-plan competitions so far. This is our first monetary win. The other team had a really great idea as well, so it really came down to the wire for us.”

Team Captain Energy — Katherine Chang ’10, PhD student Garrett Johnson, Yutaka Kamai ’10, Dana Marohn ’10, Kyu Ho Song ’10 and Will Zhou ’10 — presented a business concept for using a “Captain Energy” character to motivate children ages 6 to 15 to become involved in energy reduction efforts via a website offering credits for virtual goods. The event was a great challenge for the team, Zhou said.

“We really enjoyed the competition for the opportunity to develop the ideas we had,” he said. “It also gave us the chance to speak with a lot of people in the industry who were very helpful to us. We want to get more feedback. We plan to go back in and evaluate where to go from here.”

That next step is also on the minds of Team SmartSense, Evans said.

“We feel like we’re at a point right now where we can really go out and make a pitch to potential investors or venture capitalists,” he said. “We have an agreement that all winnings automatically go back into the company. We want to develop our prototype and hopefully do some in-home trials this summer.”

Kellogg Sustainability Challenge judges

  • Hank Adams ’99, CEO, SportsVision
  • Balu Balagopal ’90, Head of Global Sustainability Practice, BCG
  • Shez Bandukwala ’92, Managing Director, Investment Banking, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated
  • Amanda Gimble ’85, VP, Strategy and Partnerships, Safe Water Network
  • Matt Kistler ’00, SVP Sustainability, Walmart
  • Rupesh Shah ’00, Director of Corporate Sustainability, Intuit
  • Michael Whelchel ’95, Principal, Watershed Capital