Winning Strategies: Lessons From The Top 3 Winners Of The GREEN HORIZON Pitch Contest | Vietcetera
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Nov 24, 2023

Winning Strategies: Lessons From The Top 3 Winners Of The GREEN HORIZON Pitch Contest

What essential elements does a sustainable startup idea need to win a competition?
Winning Strategies: Lessons From The Top 3 Winners Of The GREEN HORIZON Pitch Contest

Top 3 GREEN HORIZON Pitch Contest | Source: Khooa Nguyen & Lê Lâm for Vietcetera.

BUV x Coca-Cola Vietnam x Vietcetera

If you’re keen on green living or a young enthusiast in sustainable entrepreneurship, don’t overlook the invaluable insights from the recent GREEN HORIZON Pitch Contest winners!

Winner Halophilic Marine Agriculture: Transforming Saline Water into an Environment for Cultivating Edible Algae

Could you briefly describe your team’s concept?

Our project at Halophilic harnesses saline water bodies to grow a type of salt-resistant algae, Salicornia. This algae, once harvested, is safe for consumption and offers high economic value as a food source for restaurants.

Halophilic MA’s innovative concept of growing edible algae in saline conditions triumphed at the GREEN HORIZON event | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera

The inspiration for this idea came from the severe saltwater intrusion in the Mekong Delta, where an abundance of water is rendered useless for agriculture due to salinity, leading to waste.

We hypothesized that in such saline environments, salt-tolerant plants would be highly effective. This led us to Salicornia, also known as sea asparagus, a plant capable of thriving in salinity levels of up to 40ppt (normal seawater is around 25-35ppt).

This technique of saline water cultivation is not simple; globally, it’s only been applied by us and another company named Marine Aquafuture in Hawaii. I collaborated with the founder of that company to form Halophilic Marine Agriculture (Halophilic MA) in Vietnam, aspiring to scale this hydroponic venture beyond the US borders.

Salicornia thriving in saline water | Source: Hatch

For Halophilic MA to realize this concept, we must ensure a steady supply of seeds, train shrimp farming facilities in advanced cultivation methods, and conduct thorough market research to bring this plant variety to restaurants.

How many initial ideas did you have that didn’t reach the final stage?

There were none other; this concept represents the entirety of my career.

Saying that I’ve dedicated "my entire life" to developing this saltwater algae cultivation technology is accurate. I left behind my friends and hometown to live on a shrimp farm on the outskirts of Can Gio. I invested my whole heart into it, hoping that one day, restaurants throughout Vietnam will incorporate algae from saline waters into their dishes more commonly.

What was the most challenging part about making this idea a reality?

The biggest challenge was lacking a tangible, edible algae product to showcase on stage. To prove the viability of my algae for restaurant use, I needed something more concrete than just slide presentations.

Nick Shell - Co-founder of Halophilic MA, discussing his innovative saline water algae cultivation concept | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera.

Luckily, two years ago, I filmed myself eating the processed algae, a video initially made for fun. I never anticipated that this footage would become crucial evidence that helped me clinch victory in the pitching contest.

I’m still amazed and delighted by this win, partly because the ideas from other teams were strong and partly because my product is relatively new and not yet prevalent in Vietnam’s market. I’m hopeful this win will accelerate its market introduction.

What significance does winning the Pitch Contest hold for you?

People often associate winning with the financial prize that helps materialize business concepts. While I am thankful for that, it’s not the only reward.

What could be more valuable than awards from major competitions? | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera.

To me, the greatest value lies in the “human” aspect. Participating in the Pitch Contest exposed me to invaluable expert critiques. Having navigated past industry hurdles, these experts offered insights and experiences that are more precious to me than any prize.

Any advice for youngsters pitching next year?

Just take the leap and register.

You might falter in your presentation, lose your cool on stage, or struggle with articulation. Countless reasons might make you second-guess yourself.

But the relationships forged post-competition – with teammates, judges, and advisors – are immensely valuable, regardless of winning or losing.

I’ve faced failure, even repeatedly. I’ve been criticized and struggled with self-doubt. But all these experiences were mere stepping stones to where I am today. Those early feedback sessions equipped me with the necessary “life” experience to confidently step onto the pitch stage now.

Also Read: Vietnam Innovators Summit’s Green Horizon 2023: Spotlight On Sustainable Development Initiatives

Alternō Runner-Up - Innovative Sand Batteries for Thermal Energy Storage in Buildings

Can you give a brief overview of your team’s concept?

Alternō, formed by Kent Nguyen, Hai Ho, and Nguyen Quoc Nam, is pioneering a novel energy storage technology in Vietnam. Our groundbreaking product is the sand battery, utilizing surplus energy or solar panels as a “thermal energy reservoir” for extended periods.

Alternō’s sand battery idea offers large-scale electricity storage, solving significant business challenges | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera.

A fundamental sand battery setup includes an insulated sand container with heat-conducting pipes immersed in the sand. This sand battery’s stored thermal energy can be utilized for heating or cooling buildings. For instance, our team developed the prototype capable of maintaining heat for months, sufficient for drying substantial amounts of agricultural produce.

How did you engage in sustainable practices before the competition?

I’ve practiced sustainable living since 2006, inspired by the documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

I prefer using an electric bike over a motorbike and have cultivated about 1000m2 of natural forest through a service. Moreover, I’ve transitioned to solar panels for electricity, reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Mr. Hai Ho discusses Alterno Group’s sand battery concept | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera.

The main challenge in eco-friendly living is the expense. Sustainable products often come at a higher price, and you can control food sources when dining out or inadvertently engaging with non-sustainable businesses.

What was the greatest hurdle in actualizing this idea?

At first, we wanted a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) with a robust background in hardware, but we couldn’t find one. However, we found a CTO after joining Antler’s incubation program, clarifying our idea, securing a $110,000 investment, and participating in Qualcomm’s incubation for patenting. We obtained the initial investment to bring our concept to fruition.

Any memorable experiences from your idea development journey?

A defining moment was our visit to a coffee farm in Dak Lak, where the entire Alternō team saw firsthand the strenuous coffee drying methods of the farmers.

Alternō has progressed to the operational stage | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera.

Farmers had to dry coffee in rudimentary wood-fired ovens akin to pigsties. Workers laboriously gathered tons of coffee spread across vast areas during sudden rainstorms.

This visit profoundly solidified the significance of our solution for the farming community. With a sand battery providing stored electric power, people wouldn’t have to engage in extensive manual labor.

Also Read: Champions For Change: Meet The ‘GREEN HORIZON Pitch Contest’ Panel Of Experts

People’s Choice Award Winner AquaGleam: Revolutionary Technology for Removing Ions and Metals from Contaminated Water

Could you encapsulate your team’s innovative idea?

AquaGleam’s initiative stems from tackling water pollution, which disrupts ecological balance and creates a scarcity of clean water. We’ve implemented ’Capacitive Deionization’ (CDI) technology, which is adept at extracting valuable metals from polluted water sources.

AquaGleam acclaimed with the audience’s choice award | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera.

AquaGleam’s solution involves electrostatic attraction and a double-layer charge mechanism to extract ions from water, known as capacitive deionization. CDI functions by applying voltage across two electrodes coated with porous activated carbon, merging adsorption, and the effects of electric fields to isolate ions and charged particles. This process purifies the water by removing these ions.

How did you engage in eco-friendly practices before the competition?

Dung: “Living sustainably in Hanoi is not easy. For instance, using public transport in Hanoi, especially during rush hours, is a challenge.

In an effort to achieve sustainable living, I choose the bus and other public transport methods as my main ways of getting around, and I also prefer ridesharing services that use electric vehicles like Xanh SM.”

Lan Anh: “One interesting sustainable practice I learned from my boss is ‘digitization’ of daily tasks. Instead of writing notes on paper, I’ve shifted to digital tools for handling tasks.”

Hao: “I usually walk or bike to school. I find that walking and biking not only reduce pollution emissions but are also beneficial for physical health.”

What is a standout memory from your team’s idea development phase?

One of the most unforgettable instances was a major disagreement we had while finalizing our idea. Given our diverse professional backgrounds, disagreements are inevitable. At times, our discussions became so heated that the group ceased functioning for a few days.

To reach today’s meticulously prepared presentation, the team underwent several heated discussions | Source: Khooa Nguyen for Vietcetera.

Moreover, our team members are scattered across North and South Vietnam, so our meetings are always conducted online. Nonetheless, this distance didn’t diminish our passion! Making it to the Top 5 of the Green Horizon Pitch Contest catalyzed our reunion in Saigon.

What advice would you offer young participants in future Pitch Contests like Green Horizon?

Believe in your idea. If you have researched and prepared well, trust that your idea has value and potential for success, and persistently pursue it.

Before reaching the “confidence” stage, we also gathered different ways to make you more steadfast, such as:

  • Know your field well: For us, it’s Water Engineering. This helps you present information logically and persuasively to the judges.
  • Practice and prepare: Conduct rehearsal sessions and get feedback on your presentation skills.
  • Learn from others’ experiences: This can give you a comprehensive view of the process and approach to the contest.
  • Failure is not the end: Don’t be discouraged if you’ve done your best and still don’t succeed. See each contest as an opportunity to grow and learn. AquaGleam’s victory at the Green Horizon Pitch Contest is the result of experience and knowledge accumulated from previous competitions.

Vietnam Innovators Summit 2023 - GREEN HORIZON is a segment of the Vietnam Innovators Summit 2023. The event provides a platform for forward-thinkers to share, learn, and collaborate, aiming to cultivate a sustainable business landscape as Vietnam embarks on its eco-conscious transition.

Our heartfelt gratitude goes to British University Vietnam (BUV), Coca-Cola Vietnam; Content Partner Raise Partner; Venue Partner Renaissance Riverside Hotel Saigon; EQUO and CarbonFarm Technology SAS for their support towards the VNI Summit 2023- GREEN HORIZON.