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Students Compete for Cash Prizes in Second SUSTAIN-X Pitch Competition

In a setting similar to “Shark Tank,” entrepreneurs pitched ideas for sustainable business startups at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business.
Winning teams, judges, and leadership at the SUSTAIN-X pitch competition.

The pressure was on the second SUSTAIN-X pitch competition. Presenters had five minutes to demonstrate both the profitability of their startups as well as their value to society and the environment. The sustainable business ideas – from fabric made from fungi to pet food derived from oyster shells – impressed both the audience and judges. The event occurred March 28, 2024, at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business.

The SUSTAIN-X initiative, launched in 2022, supports participants interested in and passionate about creating startups with positive environmental and social impact. SUSTAIN-X activities include hangouts that help participants develop ideas, mentorship opportunities from faculty and entrepreneurs, and the pitch competition. Participation comes not only comes from Georgia Tech students but also from faculty, staff, and students from other institutions, and community members. (To be eligible for CREATE-X’s Startup Launch, to which the top team is invited, at least one team member must be affiliated with Georgia Tech.) The initiative guides participants through the entire entrepreneurship process – from ideation to launch.

SUSTAIN-X is a partnership between CREATE-X and the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business and is also a Sustainability Next Georgia Tech Strategic Plan initiative.

In his introduction at the competition, Andre Calmon, co-director of the initiative, said his involvement in the initiative has given him hope that a better future is possible. Calmon, who is assistant professor of operations management, called the six finalists selected for competition “samples of this hope.” Karthik Ramachandran, professor of operations management, also serves as co-director, and Kjersti Lukens is program manager.

(Clockwise from upper left) Karthik Ramachandran, Kjersti Lukens, and Andre Calmon. Presentation by Team Battery-Free UAV. Presentation by SustainaForm. The audience listens to a startup pitch.  

Scheller College Dean Anuj Mehrotra reflected on the entrepreneurs in the room being in the right place at the right time. He said, “Atlanta is becoming one of the fastest growing innovation spaces in the world, and it’s very energizing.” He wished good luck to all of the teams, saying that he hoped they would pursue the dual path towards profitability and sustainability for the sake of our planet and our society. “I share the enthusiasm and hope that Atlanta is a place that will not only receive impact but sustainable impact because of such ventures,” he said.

Out of 30 strong applications for the pitch competition, six teams were selected to present their ideas. The judges were Chris Klaus, Rahul Saxena, Kashi Segel, and Jennifer Singh. Teams were evaluated across four categories: 1) business value; 2) novelty, creativity, and feasibility; 3) environmental impact; and 4) presentation.

The three prize winners received cash prizes, and the top team received an invitation to the Summer 2024 CREATE-X Startup Launch program.

Presenters shared positive feedback about the experience of participating in the competition.

Xuanhao Li, who is pursuing an M.S. in Digital Media, reflected, “I'm grateful for the opportunity to showcase our project [SustainaForm]. The passion and professionalism exhibited by the judges and organizers is impressive. SUSTAIN-X is an excellent starting point for inventors who prioritize sustainable design and aim to make a real impact in the market.”

Being in front of the audience and speaking with the judges made Wyatt Williams nervous, he admitted. But Williams, a dual degree student who is pursuing an MBA and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering, said he valued the opportunity to showcase what his startup, PRL, has been working on “at a new level.” He also found the post-competition conversations and feedback “really rewarding.”

Mya Love Griesbaum, a second-year materials science and engineering major who took home first prize, reflected, “The SUSTAIN-X Competition was a fabulous opportunity to gain feedback on the work I’m doing and to meet other people dedicated to not only growing a business but also growing a sustainable future.”

Prize Winners

Left: Mya Love Griesbaum wearing Mycorrhiza Fashion garment. Right: Products created with Mycorrhiza Fashion material.  

First Prize ($2,500): Mycorrhiza Fashion
Presenter: Mya Love Griesbaum (She, Her), Founder

How can fashion – the third largest polluting industry – be more sustainable? Enter Mycorrhiza Fashion, a collective of mycologists, engineers, designers, and creatives, which has developed a sustainable leather alternative derived from fungi. The material allows people to express themselves through fashion while respecting the environment and the people living in it.

Left: PRL Presenters Wyatt Williams and AnaMaree Barnes. Right: Benefits of PRL oyster shell calcium.  

Second Prize ($1,500): Professional Restoration Leaders (PRL)
Founders: Alyce Adams, MBA ’23; Wyatt Williams; and AnaMaree Barnes

What can be done about the massive amounts of non-biodegradable oyster shell waste produced by the seafood industry? PRL (pronounced “pearl”) aims to solve the problem by tapping into the booming pet industry and market trend toward sustainability. PRL predicts profitability in selling an upcycled oyster shell product (oyster shell calcium) to the pet industry.

Third Prize ($500): SustainaForm
Founders: Xuanhao Li and Jinzhi Ye

Paper and plastic bags pose a threat to people and the environment. Recycling uses natural resources, and bags that are not recycled become pollution. SustainaForm is on a mission to maximize utility out of waste. The research-driven, sustainable design company upcycles plastic and paper bags into high-value products such as furniture, tableware, packaging material, and reusable totes.

(Clockwise from upper left) The judges at the pitch competition. The Tool team presents. The audience applauds the winners. Mya Love Griesbaum.


Auxilio Technologies (Presenter: Navneeth Rajiv)
The startup improves defect detection in battery manufacturing using AI.

Battery-Free UAV (Presenters: Tejonidhi Deshpande and Rishabh Goel)
The drone harvests energy from sunlight for perpetual flight and reduced maintenance.

Tool (Presenters: Mario Asiain, Ethan Benater, and Blake Coleman)
Tool is a smoking cessation system built by science.

Interested in getting involved?

  • Visit the SUSTAIN-X website to learn more. The program is hosted by Georgia Tech but serves the state of Georgia and is open to students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members.
  • Use this link to sign up for the Sustainable-X newsletter.


Written by Jennifer Holley Lux. Photographs by Allison Carter.

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