Note to Reporters: A photo of Trang Tran accepting her Green Challenge award is available with this release at news.colostate.edu
Fargreen, a startup founded as part of Colorado State University’s Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program, took home €200,000 (more than $250,000 US) in the 2014 Postcode Lottery Green Challenge on Sept. 11.
CEO Trang Tran accepted the prize after pitching her company against four other finalists, selected from more than 300 entrants from 57 countries, in a weeklong competition in Amsterdam. Fargreen works with local rice farmers in Tran’s home country of Vietnam to divert leftover rice straw from burning to a growing medium for edible gourmet mushrooms. This process not only reduces air pollution and stops the release of greenhouse gases, it also gives farmers an additional crop to increase their income by 50 percent.
Tran expects Fargreen mushrooms to be available in Vietnamese grocery stores by the end of the year, where they will be the first branded mushrooms on the market and sell for a premium. The Green Challenge prize will help the company expand operations and eventually enter other countries, such as India, facing similar environmental challenges.
Tran received her GSSE MBA from CSU in May. Fargreen was part of the Venture Accelerator program in the Institute for Entrepreneurship in CSU’s College of Business, and won the inaugural CSU Blue Ocean Challenge Collegiate Track, and took third place in the Enterprise Track of the competition. The company also won the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition at the University of Washington in Seattle and the Walmart Better Living Competition. Tran was also chosen as one of six business owners to receive a two-year fellowship with Echoing Green, a global nonprofit that supports social entrepreneurs with seed-stage funding and strategic assistance.
“When we were at Colorado State, we knew we had a social enterprise, but when successful entrepreneurs around the world say we have a solid business model, that is very gratifying,” Tran said.
Arthur Kay, British founder of green start-up Bio-bean, was awarded the grand prize of €500,000 in the Green Challenge competition. His company uses a patented process to upcycle waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuel products, biodiesel and biomass pellets used to power buildings and vehicles.
The other finalists were Dutch startups Bluerise and One Nights Tent, and Turbosail from France, founded by Pierre-Yves Cousteau.
Since 2007, the Dutch Postcode Lottery has challenged people around the world to enter sustainable, creative, innovative products and services that reduce carbon emissions.
The Green Challenge attracts some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs to evaluate the finalists. Last year, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, served as chair of the jury that chose the Green Challenge winners; Ellen MacArthur, British solo sailor and founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, did the honors for 2014.
“I’m impressed with the business plans I have seen today, reaffirming that business innovation is a major force for positive change,” MacArthur said. “Like never before, entrepreneurs have an incredible opportunity to shape the future and I can see bright prospects for these startups.”