The University of Oregon is full of entrepreneurs, researchers, environmentalists, and sport business students, but it was a team of four MBA students from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices that recently shone the brightest and won the top prize at Zero Waste Washington’s 2020 Zero Waste Hackathon.
UO students Ashley Gilbert, Spencer Bienstock, Aliçia Diehl, and Justine Kruse competed in the annual event—a five-week virtual competition aimed at addressing solutions for the recycling crisis. The Oregon MBA team developed an innovative plan for addressing the stunning amount of furniture waste generated by the hospitality sector each year. Their plan, Wild Nest, outlined a comprehensive business strategy that included a plan for hotel furniture decommissioning and earned them the judges’ top nod.
“This was an all-around great experience—the first competition any of us have participated in. I’m energized by the support we received from the judges and excited to see where it could go,” said Gilbert.
There were five primary focus areas in the competition: promoting repair and reuse, preventing food waste, revamping the recycling system, redesigning products, and reducing toxic chemicals. Teams were required to produce five-minute presentations and one-page marketing sheets, which were assessed by the judges alongside a question-and-answer session.
“Our pitch lead with compelling statistics about the volume of furniture waste generated in the U.S. each year, which represents 20 percent of the total durable goods waste sent to landfill each year, according to the EPA. It’s an outside the box idea, and we provided a comprehensive solution to a non-obvious but significant problem,” explained Gilbert.
After weeks of preparation and support from center faculty and staff, including Ryan Cabinte, Michael Russo, and Joshua Skov, Wild Nest competed alongside fourteen other teams from Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia. Their innovation and business strategy won over the panel of judges, and the team took home the $2,500 grand prize.
“This program has given me the confidence to lead a team and use business to drive positive change, and most importantly, it introduced me to a group of talented, like-minded individuals who are ready and willing to do the work,” said Gilbert.
—Emily Watts, MBA '21