Students place second in Microsoft contest

When freshmen Laura Hanes, Reed Probus, and Ryan Tilton were in their USEM class fall quarter, professor Phil Prins showed the class a 10-minute clip of the 2007 international finals of the Imagine Cup competition in Korea.

This video showed presentations of what students have done for the competition in previous years, and Probus came up with a business idea that he thought would be perfect for the competition.

According to imaginecup.com, the Imagine Cup competition aims to encourage young people to apply their imagination, passion and creativity to technology innovations that can make a difference in the world.

This year’s competition theme was the environment. Hanes, Probus, Tilton and junior Kevin McFarland submitted CarbonCart, an online store that offsets carbon footprints, for their entry in the competition.

"CarbonCart was a business before it became an entry in the Imagine Cup," Probus said. "We thought it would make a good entry that fit the theme of creating a sustainable environment."

After months of hard work, team CarbonCart won second place in the Imagine Cup competition, sponsored by Microsoft, on April 22.

"Microsoft understands that young people have great ideas for solving relevant problems in our world," Probus said.

Imagine Cup has nine categories, and team CarbonCart entered in the software design competition. About 100 countries hold their own finals, and in the summer the international finals are held at a different location each year, Probus said.

Probus said that Prins, an associate professor of computer science, supported the team as they advanced through the three rounds of the competition.

"He brought in a friend to review our business plan, helped coordinate interviews, and bragged to the SPU faculty about our project," Probus said. "He has been a great mentor to our team."

Carboncart.com, going live in June 2008, is an online shopping site with over five million products from candy to shoes, Probus said. He said that they have "drop shipping" partnerships with leading online retailers, so when an order is placed, they pay their partners to ship the package directly to the customer, eliminating the need for them to keep their own inventory.

Tilton had prior experience in e-commerce, Probus completed the Web design, and Hanes and McFarland did most of the business side of the project, which included competition documents, such as the business plan.

The students flew down to Los Angeles, where the finals took place April 19-22 at the Orpheum Theater.

"There were six groups and five judges from various backgrounds, and the teams each had an hour to give their presentations," McFarland said.

According to McFarland, the judging was based on things such as the business plan, giving a full demonstration of the product, a certain amount of completeness and looking at the environmental aspect.

Team CarbonCart was the youngest group, and SPU was also the smallest school represented, Hall said.

The winning team was TeamSpark, who designed a computer program and network sensors that could control all of a home’s electrical appliances from the computer, Probus said. They won $12,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris, France.

Team CarbonCart won $8,000 to be distributed among the team members.

Probus said that Carboncart.com offsets all carbon emissions from driving and shipping with about 5 percent of all proceeds going to three off-site projects: reforestation, renewable energy initiatives and energy efficiency credits.

"We want everyone to help out with the green movement," Hanes said. "Carboncart.com is an environmentally friendly way to shop online."

Hanes said that because customers are not driving to wherever they are buying their product, they are already decreasing carbon emissions, but by shopping at Carboncart.com, these carbon emissions from driving and shipping will be offset by the time the product reaches a buyer’s doorstep.

An interesting element to Carboncart.com is that it has no pop-ups or advertisements, Hanes said.

"We don’t want to pollute our Web site with clutter," McFarland said.

Probus said Carboncart.com charges a slight markup over the price they pay their suppliers, which covers carbon offsets, credit card processing, and keeping the business running. He said the site is similar to Amazon.com and does not sell used products or allow listings posted by users.

CarbonCart was also entered in SPU’s social venture competition, where they received an honorable mention.

The real work will begin when the store is online, Probus said, adding that it is about 90 percent complete right now after four months of hard work.

"CarbonCart will take off if we are committed to continually improving the customer experience and actively pursuing opportunities to get the word out," Probus said.

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Title: Students place second in Microsoft contest | Author: Mandy Weiland | Section: News | Published Date: 2008-04-30 | Internal ID: 6478