Methane Hub's waste-to-energy solution for Haiti takes 1st at Earlham competition
April 28, 2017
A process for developing an alternative energy solution that can lessen the effects of indoor air pollution in Haiti has earned four Earlhamites $22,500 in start-up capital and office space to jump start a new business venture.
First-year students Josie Burton, Zoya Abbas, Ruthvin Gardiner and Lan Phan are Methane Hub, the winning team from the inaugural Earlham Prize for Creative Capitalism, the signature initiative of the College’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
“I’m really excited,” says Burton, a first-year student from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who developed the business idea after a service trip to Haiti. “This competition gave our team affirmation that our business plan is scalable and quantifiable. It hasn’t entirely sunk in yet. We have worked hard to achieve our goal. Still, we know this is just the beginning.”
Methane Hub offers a business opportunity for Haitian entrepreneurs to earn money by selling compressed biogas produced from human and animal waste that is created by going through a digester, a large tank that is part of the biogas system. Biogas is a replacement cooking fuel for charcoal that eliminates indoor smoke. The customers will have access to the tools necessary to cook with biogas in their homes via a leasing system based in the community.
“People in Haiti are cooking with charcoal in their houses,” Abbas says. “Women and children are suffering the most. Women and young girls go into the market to get charcoal, or wood as a backup. When they come back to the house and make the meal, they are inhaling the smoke that is trapped inside the house.”
Team members' research uncovered a sobering statistic: 4.3 people die prematurely every year from the effects of indoor air pollution, or more than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined, according to the World Health Organization.
“Our business model is effective because it solves a challenge that is very close and personal to the public,” Abbas says.
Methane Hub was among 17 teams who competed in the inaugural business plan competition, which awarded $40,000 over the course of three rounds of competition. Spriland, manufacturers of an energy bar to solve the issue of malnutrition in Vietnam, was awarded $4,000 for finishing second; Know Hunger Know More, a venture seeking to eradicate hunger through a food security program in Wayne County, Indiana, was awarded $1,500. Smaller prizes were distributed to teams in earlier rounds of the competition.
The competition is an example of the creative and innovative spirit encouraged by EPIC, a comprehensive program that enables students to look at problems from multiple angles and seek solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.
“Part of the Earlham mission is to prepare morally sensitive leaders and this is helping us reinforce that mission by preparing that special kind of leader to serve future generations through social entrepreneurship,” says Gene Hambrick, director of the Earlham Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and executive in residence. “We saw evidence of that in our inaugural competition.”
With start-up capital earned in the competition, Methane Hub expects to grow its professional network, enter additional business plan competitions, and establish itself as a social enterprise. This winter, the team will travel to Leógan̂e, a rural community near the capital of Port-au-Prince, to undergo a scouting trip where they will observe on-the-ground market dynamics and will work with potential customers.
The business seeks to not only improve the living conditions of rural Haitians but also to promote new revenue streams that are currently unavailable in a community affected by high levels of poverty. Long-term benefits of Methane Hub’s services could also lead to a solution for deforestation in Haiti, a consequence of the nation’s reliance on charcoal and wood for energy.