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The winning shark-tank pitch that aims to save the planet

19 April 2021
Summer Innovation Program 2021 winners speak about their winning idea
The winners of the Summer Innovation Program 2021, the Sustainability team, speak about their winning idea, Offset October, and their ambitious plans to combat climate change.

Summer Innovation Program 2021 winners, the Sustainability team, Samuel Xie, Emily Shaw, Alexander McManis, Oliver Huang, and Ella Shih.

This week is EnviroWeek and the theme is ‘Sustainability in Action’. So, we decided to speak to the Sustainability team, who were the winners of the Summer Innovation Program 2021 (SIP 2021) and the Tom Yim Innovation Team Prize.

The team spoke about why they decided to apply for SIP 2021, and the innovative action they are taking to save the planet and make a difference with their winning team idea, Offset October.

Tell us about your team idea, Offset October, including future plans.

Offset October is a campaign designed to bring together communities of students with the goal of incentivising them to use more sustainable modes of transport, like buses, trains and bikes, and reduce their daily carbon emissions.
The Sustainability team, winners of SIP 2021.

Throughout the month of October we want to challenge students to team up, and compete against their friends to see who can save the most emissions! To facilitate this we are developing the Offset October app which will track user’s transport routes and reward users for taking less emissions routes. These reward points can be exchanged for discounts with partnering sustainable businesses. 

At the moment we are in the early stages of developing our app. We were lucky to win the Summer Innovation Program 2021 and Tom Yim Innovation Team Prize, which has given us a huge boost. We are also presenting at the USU’s EnviroWeek festival this week, which we are really looking forward to!

After that we will keep working on our project in preparation for our launch in October! 

Why did you apply for SIP 2021?

The Sustainability team presenting at the SIP 2021 final pitch night.

We had slightly different reasons for joining the program, but we all thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to combine our different disciplinary backgrounds. Each of us has studied in two or more different disciplines.

Between us we’ve studied law, physics, chemical and civil engineering, philosophy, film, international relations and economics, and we all really wanted to see how we could use the skills we have developed over our studies in an interdisciplinary setting. The briefs were amazing as well. They were all such massive issues, and seemed like fantastic challenges to work on! 

What were some of the highlights of working with a team from diverse academic backgrounds?

Seeing how everyone’s different ideas blended together was definitely one. We all had such different perspectives on the problem and it made for some really fascinating conversations along the way. The residential program at St Paul’s College was a great experience as well and it really helped us get to know each other, as well as the other people in the program. Everyone was so friendly! It made it such a fun experience from start to end! 

When you were presented with your challenge topic, sustainability, how did your team approach the challenge?

We started really broad and narrowed it down. Initially we were sitting around a white board writing down things that came to our mind when we thought about ‘sustainability’. The sub-topic that appealed to us most was carbon emissions. It is such an enormous problem and one we felt we could make a real contribution to solving. From there we kept narrowing down and narrowing down.

We went from global carbon emissions to Australian carbon emissions and then, after a lot of research about local carbon emissions, we settled on transport emissions as the issue we wanted to tackle. We kicked around a lot of different solutions and then eventually settled on the app plus campaign approach.

And this was how Offset October was born!

What would you say to other students considering applying to SIP next year?

The Sustainability team presenting at the SIP 2021 final pitch night.

Apply! Apply! Apply! SIP is such a unique and rewarding experience getting to apply your skills to solving a real world problem. The people you have access to are incredible as well! Our mentors Dr Madeline Taylor and Professor Rosemary Lyster were brilliant, as were Dr David Martinez Martin and Professor Simon Bronitt, the convenors.

So many other academics were so generous with their time, as were the industry experts we spoke to. We got to speak to some really senior people at software companies, law firms and industry groups during the design process, which is the sort of stuff you can only do when you are working on a program like SIP. Plus, the SIP alumni network is excellent, and always expanding! 

Being a mentor of the Sustainability Team was an honour in watching our SIP team harness every opportunity to meet a variety of diverse experts including from Amazon, ARENA, Sydney University and KPMG. The team harnessed learned data, insights and recommendations to create their winning App reimagining ways to abate transport carbon emissions – Offset October.
Dr Madeline Taylor, Sydney Law School and co-mentor of the Sustainability team.

How do you think the SIP will help your career pathways/what were some of the skills you gained?

I think we have all learnt a lot from SIP. We learned a lot about team work, how to manage our time and split up tasks across the group. It really challenged us to think creatively. Moreover, I think it has taught us that anything is really possible if you put your mind to it.

We were all so amazed how we would come up with an idea, pitch it to people, and they would say ‘yes that’s doable’. I think it really changed our perspectives on what is doable in sustainable innovation space, and the careers that could be out there. Oh, and we walked out of SIP with a business of our own, which is pretty cool. 


Follow Offset October on social media: 

Meet the Sustainability team and find out more about the Offset October app at the USU EnviroWeek festival on Wednesday 21 April.

The Summer Innovation Program brings together students from across the University to identify, understand and explore innovative solutions at the nexus between law, science and technology.

If you are a current student at The University of Sydney and you are interested in applying for SIP 2022, join the mailing list at law.sip@sydney.edu.au.

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