Texas A&M University students presented their original solutions for judges to some of the world’s most pressing social and economic challenges in early November, when Mays Business School hosted its first Sustainable Solutions to Social Problems Case Competition.

Team_PicShannon Deer, senior lecturer in the Department of Accounting, who was coordinator for the competition, called the first year a success.

“Our teams demonstrated an aptitude for critical thinking skills and problem-solving applied to some of the world’s biggest challenges, such as waste, hunger, malnutrition, inhibited food distribution, childhood poverty, inaccessibility to electricity, the refugee crisis, unfair labor practices and unproductive agriculture practices,” she said.

The competition was the culmination of the newest Applied Business competencies course Business Solutions to Social Problems (BUSN 302). In this discussion-oriented course, students explored social problems of their choice and developed appropriate sustainable solutions.

Each team comprised students from different disciplines from around Texas A&M, including at least one student from Mays. The students spent the semester preparing presentations for a panel of judges that included Kyle Gammenthaler of Mays, and Chris Field and Gretchen Nickson of Mercy Project, a non-profit organization.  

First place was awarded to Team Entomon, which included Mays marketing major Garrett Hayslip ’17, Landry Tucker ’16 of Allied Health and Sloane Ansell ’16, a bioenvironmental sciences major. The team won $5,000 to fund their solution, “Entomon,” a stackable insect farm made from a 55-gallon food barrel.

The purpose of Entomon is to feed people and their livestock,” said Hayslip, who managed the team’s digital media. He and his team members hope to help people around the world efficiently and inexpensively raise insects, especially where insects are an integral part of the local diets – which encompasses 116 countries.

He explained the reason the team chose the 55-gallon food-grade barrel: You can find them ubiquitously throughout the world; they’re cheap (some companies even donate their surplus); they are tough and practically weather-proof; and last but definitely not least, they make for a great stackable insect farm.”

Since the case competition concluded, Team Entomon has been working to improve their product and eventually put it in the hands of people that need it most. “Right now, we are using our friends as beta users to uncover potential problems that others may face.”  He added, “Yes, that’s right, other Texas A&M students are farming bugs, too.”

The runner-up team was Tengo, which included finance major Philip Wang ’16, economics major Rosalyn Kamp ’16, computer science major Kaveet Laxmidas ’18 and Allen McDonald ’15, who is studying public administration at the The Bush School of Government and Public Service. Tengo is a texting service for Costa Rican farmers that directly connects buyers and sellers at market prices, avoiding the exploitation common among distributors there.

Other presentations included a solar light for areas lacking electricity; a mobile phone app to allow consumers to search products for an ethical supply chain before purchase; improved recycling on West Campus; wider distribution of fresh produce across A&M campus; an app to improve childhood literacy in America; and methods to increase agricultural productivity in Costa Rica through the distribution of coffee and use of innovative greenhouse technology to control rainfall.

“The case competition was incredibly inspiring, and I am so proud of what our students are doing,” Deer said.

Several teams plan to pilot their solutions internationally this winter or summer in several countries, including Costa Rica and Uganda.