School-led team takes prize in finals of social business competition

November 01, 2012
Sanitation Creations, an entrepreneurial venture founded and led by Gillings School of Global Public Health alumna Liz Morris, MS, was second runner-up in the inaugural UNC Social Business Conference, held Sept. 27 at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C.

The UNC-born company Sanitation Creations placed third overall in a recent social business competition. Founder Liz Morris (left) and team members (l-r) Kristen Downs and Alison Sanders pose with Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus at the event.

The UNC-born company Sanitation Creations placed third overall in a recent social business competition. Founder Liz Morris (left) and team members (l-r) Kristen Downs and Alison Sanders pose with Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus at the event.

Morris and her team took home a cash prize of $1,000.

Sanitation Creations developed the Dungaroo, an environmentally friendly portable toilet that is waterless, odorless and cost-efficient. The invention uses specially-lined bags that kill pathogens, which are then sealed and flushed into its base after use. The team plans to work with regional bio-digestion and gasification sites to generate methane from the waste.

Morris studied with Jamie Bartram, PhD, Holzworth Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering at Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of The Water Institute at UNC, and developed the idea while working on her master’s degree. She graduated last spring and continued with the project as an entrepreneurial effort. Her team members include Bartram and UNC environmental sciences and engineering doctoral candidates Kristen Downs and Allison Sanders.

Judith Cone, special assistant to Chancellor Holden Thorp for innovation and entrepreneurship at UNC-Chapel Hill, led a delegation of 27 team members from Chapel Hill. Two local teams, including Sanitation Creations, advanced to the finals.

“The ingenuity and passion that students from across the state demonstrated in tackling seemingly insurmountable problems was inspiring and shows great hope for the future,” Cone said. “Our UNC-Chapel Hill teams faced tough competition, and their preparation and commitment were impressive. It was a great day for innovation and entrepreneurship at Carolina.”

 
Thirty-one teams from across the 17 UNC campuses participated. Team members identified a community challenge and took a business-oriented approach to solving it. Some of their ideas included using videogames to retrain unemployed people, using aquaponics to turn fish waste into plant food, developing a market for homeless people to sell their art, and rebranding a rural community’s downtown to improve economic performance.
 
Five hundred people from across the state, including students, faculty members and members of local communities, observed or competed at the conference. Professor Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, offered the keynote address.In 1974, Yunus, former economics professor at Chittagong University, in Bangladesh, gave his first personal micro-loans of about 30 cents to each of a few dozen basket weavers whose profits were being consumed by high-interest loans. In 1983, he formed the Grameen (Village) Bank to offer small loans to small businesses with little interest. The bank now has more than 2,500 branches in Bangladesh, serving 8.29 million borrowers in more than 81,000 villages.

The conference and student competition, as well as Yunus’ life story, are consistent with the new strategic planning effort being undertaken by the University, said UNC President Tom Ross.

“We need students ready to think and do, ready to dream and execute,” Ross said. “[We need] students who understand what is currently known about their disciplines or chosen professions, but who also are committed to and capable of understanding how to adapt and thrive through the next transformation – and the one after that.”

 
Students leaving university study also have an obligation to solve problems facing their communities and the world, Yunus noted. “This generation has a power that no other generation has had,” he said at the event. “You need to use that power to start solving problems…. Anyone can do it. It doesn’t have to be a big thing; even if it takes five people out of unemployment, this has helped their lives.”
 
Julie MacMillan, MPH, director of the Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Research and Innovation Solutions office, attended the event as a Sanitation Creations supporter.
 
“Again and again, public health students and recent graduates show us that learning and problem-solving can happen right alongside each other,” she said. “It was exciting to see this team shine.”
 
The other UNC-Chapel Hill finalist was MEDScheme, led by biology major Swetha Pasala. Pasala developed a plan to raise capital from donated medical devices in the U.S. to purchase medical equipment for hospitals in developing countries.
 
Read more about the conference online.

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UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications.