2021 Michigan Business Challenge Spotlight – Sustainium

Shannon Beeman
February 25, 2021

MBC Seigle Impact Track Spotlight

The 2021 Finals for the Michigan Business Challenge (MBC), are quickly approaching! The week leading up to the campus-wide business plan competition, the Zell Lurie Institute will highlight the innovative teams advancing from the MBC Semi-Finals.

Startup DescriptionSustainium University of Michigan Business Challenge Zell Lurie Institute

Sustainium harnesses heat from spent nuclear fuel to dry wastewater sludge and turn it into a sustainable biomass like fertilizer or fuel. In the process, we turn two negatives into a positive through an innovative circular solution. Jacob Ladd (MS’20, JD’23), Luyao Li (MS’21), Anya Shapiro (MBA/MS ’22), and Aniket Yadav (MS’21).

What was the origin of this venture? How was the problem or opportunity discovered?

We won the Nuclear Waste Grand Challenge to re-imagine the future of nuclear waste. The origin was that we wanted to design a circular solution that harnesses two waste sources (nuclear waste and sewage sludge) to turn them into a profitable and sustainable biomass like fertilizer or fuel. We also wanted to de-risk nuclear energy and the waste it produces in order to meet a decarbonized future. Finally, we wanted to find a way to prevent dried wastewater sludge from ending up in a landfill and releasing methane.

What do you think will be the long-term impact of launching your venture?

Improving public perception of the nuclear energy industry (a critical part of the clean energy transition) and providing a reliable, low-cost, and clean energy source to dry wastewater sludge and divert it from ending up in a landfill.

Michigan Business Challenge 2021 Seigle Impact TrackHow did you form your team?

We formed through a competition!

How has participation in MBC helped move your venture forward?

MBC has helped us solidify our business model and double down on how we will provide a positive impact beyond sustainability and profitability- considering critical factors like environmental justice and community welfare.

What has been your biggest takeaway from the MBC experience (so far)?

Impact and profitability can be synonymous.

What are your plans following MBC? How would prize money help your venture?

We will use the funds to build our first prototype of the technology and use it to pitch a pilot with several large utility companies in the Midwest.

What advice do you have for other student entrepreneurs?

Form an interdisciplinary team, don’t be afraid of solving problems traditionally deemed “unsolvable”, and ask yourself the questions, “if not me, who?” “if not now, when?”

How can others connect with your venture? 


2021 Michigan Business Challenge Finals 

Learn more about these great University of Michigan student startups by following the Michigan Business Challenge Finals on February 26 through ZLI social media. Route for your favorite team during the MBC final presentations and cheer on the winners as they accept cash award prizes totaling over $100,000!