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Feb. 28, 2014

Cashing in on Carbon Cash

A team of MSU students advanced to the Entrepreneurial Eight and will compete in the finals of Student Startup Madness, a partner program of South By Southwest Interactive, on March 10. The event pits teams of entrepreneurial college students against each other in a startup business designing and pitching contest.

Team members Bernie Eisbrenner, Jon Bauer and Patrick Schmitz designed Carbon Cash. The mobile app allows college students to track their electricity use and earn rewards for reducing their energy output.

“The fact that we’re even in the Entrepreneurial Eight is a compliment to what we’re doing,” said Eisbrenner, a history major specializing in environmental economics. “It’s been really fun to see how far Carbon Cash has come.”

Carbon Cash was the brainchild of Eisbrenner, who came up with the idea in an introduction to sustainability course. Wanting to turn his vision into a reality, he enlisted the help of Jon Bauer, a computer science major, to take charge of the app’s development.

“I saw potential in Bernie’s idea,” Bauer said, “but when he came to me, it was just a business idea. Now, we have a pilot of the app we’re going to launch in late March.”

The selling point for Carbon Cash is that it is mutually beneficial for retailers, students and universities. Retailers offer discounts and promotions through the app to students who reduce electricity use, driving in customers and branding their businesses as environmentally friendly.

Students are on the receiving end of retailer discounts, getting cheaper goods for reducing their carbon footprint. Finally, the universities who house students using Carbon Cash reduce their electricity cost and have more eco-friendly campuses.

“If there’s a hole in your idea, the judges will find it and pick it apart,” Eisbrenner said. “We had to really flesh out our plan so all parties involved in the app have a vested interest in our product.”

Eisbrenner said entrepreneurship has always “been in his blood.” He plans to continue entrepreneurial work after graduation, as the self-motivated nature of it suits his personality. “You learn plenty of life lessons from entrepreneurship,” Eisbrenner said.

“You can point yourself in your own direction and, after you put in the work, really watch your ideas take off.”

Bauer said he never considered himself an entrepreneur, but he has been working on side projects unrelated to classes throughout his time at MSU. He is uncertain where his computer science career is headed, but for now he is fully invested in Carbon Cash.

“All the pieces are there to make Carbon Cash the next big invention,” Bauer said. “We’re going to put everything we’ve got into it.”

This is the second year a team from MSU has advanced to the Entrepreneurial Eight in Student Startup Madness, with last year’s team taking first place.

MSU is the only university to send a team to the Entrepreneurial Eight for two consecutive years.