Michael Houlihan (left) and Bonnie Harvey, the founders of Barefoot Wine, attended the ANTrepreneur Center Sustainability Challenge kickoff event as keynote speakers. ANTrepreneur Center.
Michael Houlihan (left) and Bonnie Harvey, the founders of Barefoot Wine, attended the kickoff event as keynote speakers. ANTrepreneur Center.

Focused on the theme of sustainability, UCI students have been busy developing their business ideas for this year’s Hacking Student Success series, hosted by the ANTrepreneur Center.

Starting with the Sustainability Challenge kickoff event April 17, these eager entrepreneurs met other Anteaters and begin sharing their project ideas. Series participants had until April 21 to declare their teams, who are now working together to bring their ideas to life while competing for over $60,000 in prizes.

The Sustainability Challenge is the second Hacking Student Success event. It was created by the Office of Data and Information Technology and the ANTrepreneur Center to give students an opportunity to address campus issues that affect their own experiences and the resources to develop with solutions that can make a real impact in their community.

Sustainability was chosen as this year’s theme because of its importance to students, the campus and the community.

“We think our students have something to say about this, so let’s give them that opportunity,” says Tom Andriola, UCI’s chief digital officer and vice chancellor of information, data and technology at the kickoff event.

The ANTrepreneur Center created five categories to guide student projects: Energy, water, air, liveable spaces and food/waste.

“The categories are here to guide and inspire students, but sustainability solutions aren’t confined to these,” says Ryan Foland, director of the ANTrepreneur Center. “Anteaters think outside the box, and this challenge is designed to help give students the resources they need to flex their entrepreneurial skills. I’m excited to see what the students come up with this time around.”

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, the founders of Barefoot Wine, attended the kickoff event as keynote speakers and shared their own unique path to entrepreneurship and success.

“It’s so important to do the right thing,” says Houlihan, “More than ever we need solutions that are sustainable and affordable. I’m excited to share my experience with young people who are imagining these new ideas and solutions.”

Harvey, whose right foot you may recognize as the logo on their classic wine bottles, shares her own thoughts on the definition of sustainability.

“Sustainability is a societal goal that relates to the ability of people to coexist with the Earth,” she says. “Not just on it, but with it.”

After declaring their teams, students will attend a business building workshop from Amazon Web Services and receive training on how to pitch their ideas in a video. After submitting their video pitches, judges will choose the top teams to advance to the in-person semi-finals, at which these teams will give three-minute pitches on their sustainable ideas.

The top five of teams will be awarded $5,000 and will go on to continue developing their ideas through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program. They will present their final pitches to the UCI student body in fall 2024. The other 15 teams will receive $1,000 and will compete for a wildcard spot to make it to the finals. The winning team will receive $20,000 launch their project across the campus or in the community.

At the kickoff event, Anteater creativity was on full display with many students already suggesting bright ideas.

Fourth-year biological sciences major Farheen Dustagheer is interested in a sustainability project using bidets to help reduce the carbon footprint of toilet paper. Fourth-year business administration student Amanda Zhu’s project will focus on combating food insecurity in a sustainable fashion by encouraging the consumption of insects.

“I think it’ll be interesting to see the projects for sectors that aren’t really being covered,” says Zhu, “For now it’s just an idea, but I’m excited to see where this goes.”

If you want to learn more about supporting this or other activities at UCI, please visit the Brilliant Future website at https://brilliantfuture.uci.edu. Publicly launched on Oct. 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more.