This summer, the Dingman Center will be conducting interviews with the 11 student startups who are participating in our first in-person Terp Startup summer accelerator since 2020. Participating student entrepreneurs will receive a stipend up to $5,000 that will enable them to work exclusively on their startups over the next eight weeks.
Founders: Alisha Pun ’23, Economics major, Statistics and Spanish minor. Kevin Tu ’23 Biology and Economics major, Nonprofit Leadership & Social Innovation minor.
DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Pun: Sustainabli works to reduce the high levels of energy consumption and chemical/plastic waste that is produced by labs. We create behavioral change amongst scientists through our cost-effective programs, with each program honing in on a specific source of environmental harm. Our mission is to make research sustainable while also cutting costs for research institutes.
DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?
Tu: In 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their grimmest report yet on global warming, which galvanized me to do something to help our environment. Having been in research for 6 years, I had always noticed the staggering amount of waste that each scientist generates. As scientists, we tend to justify the amount of waste we produce with our data or discoveries, but I’ve realized that this is a fallacy. It’s perfectly possible to minimize the waste we produce while still producing excellent results. When I learned that there wasn’t much being done to address the waste produced by research, I decided that it was time to take matters into my own hands and build a startup committed to reducing research waste.
DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?
Pun: Emery Wolf was a previous sustainability coordinator at UMD. We worked with him closely and his passion for the environment was inspiring to us. He generated initial data on the feasibility of our venture’s initial products. The data demonstrated a huge opportunity to transform the realm of hard-science research towards a more sustainable culture. We owe a lot to him for encouraging us to begin this startup journey.
DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last three months?
Pun: Sustainabli was founded in March of this year. Over the past three months, our team has piloted a Shut the Sash competition between four chemistry labs at UMD. During this program, these labs have been competing against each other to see who can reduce the most amount of energy consumption by keeping their fume hood sashes closed. We’ve also created a website that uses real-time data to visualize the amount of CO2 emissions being released by each lab and fume hood. Our plan is to then expand this program to the rest of UMD’s research labs so that we can fully measure its impact on costs and carbon emissions.
DC: As a student business owner, how do you define success?
Pun: We define success as fulfilling our purpose and being able to sustain ourselves so that we can further amplify our impact on the world. It means being on the track to reaching our next greatest potential.
DC: What are you hoping to achieve during the Terp Startup Accelerator this summer?
Pun: Aside from further fostering an entrepreneurial outlook for our company, our main objective in this accelerator is to determine our go to market strategy; we hope to identify a detailed ideal customer profile and create the best pricing model that allows us to expand our programs and maximize our influence on the world of research.
DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be??
Pun: For primarily impact-driven startups like Sustainabli, there’s a tendency to prioritize our impact over our consumers’ needs. Our best piece of advice is to first delve deep into the individuals or entities that your business would be selling to; make sure your product or service is truly needed and that it will in fact survive in the market. Innovate a solution business model that will have both impact and longevity.