The 10th Annual Heller Startup Challenge

This year’s winners leveraged sustainability practices to springboard new social enterprises in the popular campus pitch competition.

November 07, 2022

a group of students outside on Zinner patio

On a sunny weekend in late October, eight teams of entrepreneurial students convened for the 10th annual Heller Startup Challenge, an intensive, two-and-a-half-day competition to develop and pitch innovative social startup enterprise ideas.

This annual social entrepreneurship initiative, open to all Heller students as well as undergraduates and alumni, gives students across campus the opportunity to test their ideas with colleagues, faculty mentors, and expert judges. Forming small teams, the participants focus on a startup concept that addresses a pressing social issue, then develop a business plan with the help of a mentor and pitch their idea at the end of the weekend.

Heller-led teams received first prize, second prize, the people’s choice award and an honorable mention in this year’s competition. All of the winning teams from this year’s startup challenge leveraged principles of environmental sustainability and waste reduction as core to their business models.

2022 Winning Teams

Tree For the Taking

1st Place, $1,500 Prize

Sam Aronson, MBA’22 and Alden Kennedy, MBA’22

Tree for the Taking is a for-profit organization focused on leveraging an invasive tree species, the Tree of Heaven, for sustainable guitar production. These trees toxify soil, harbor invasive fauna, and thrive in 30 states. In addition, traditional guitar manufacturing has relied on extractive, harmful approaches to sourcing tone woods from abroad. With Tree for the Taking guitars, we’re bringing a sustainable value-chain to our instruments, while simultaneously helping eradicate a harmful tree from the ecosystem.


Second Place, $1,000 Prize, and People’s Choice, $500

Peter Masue, MA SID’23, Martin Alexis, MA SID/MBA’23, and Harsha Bhamidipati, MA COEX’22

Endelevu (a Swahili word meaning “sustainable”) is a for-profit venture that aims to address the twin challenges of waste management and harmful polluting cooking fuels across sub-Saharan Africa. Endelevu collects, processes, and turns waste into sustainable biogas energy for use in clean cooking. Endelevu’s vision is to bring eco-friendly waste management and renewable energy to scale across Africa, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions and unlocking access to affordable clean cooking fuels.


Third Place, $500 Prize

Peter Meng ‘23, Alex Danilkovas ’25, and Randy Wang ‘25

Owly is a for-profit venture that allows students to safely and securely purchase and sell used items and goods from other students on their college campus. Owly aims to promote reusability, waste reduction, and the alleviation of student financial stress through our platform. Students on college campuses create, on average, 640 pounds of waste a year, 60% of which is reusable. Owly's vision is to reduce waste all while providing students a convenient way to get the products they need.

planTERRA group

Honorable Mention, $250

Katherine Gagen, MPP/MBA’23, Abby Despres, MPP/MBA’23, and Bhavitha Bhogaraju, MA SID’23      

planTERRA group is an environmental impact investing firm that works with communities to make living walls accessible for all urban residents, especially those that have been most harmed by climate change. planTERRA serves as the connective tissue that brings together key stakeholders, using a unique financing strategy to get the project done.