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Upright and Ecopackables Win Sobotka Prize 

The Sobotka Seed Prize hits a decade of support for sustainable ventures.

Now in its 10th year, the Sobotka Seed Prize for Sustainable Ventures has awarded $10,000 grants to environmentally-focused startups Upright and Ecopackables. Administered by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment (CBEY), this grant helps eco-ventures further develop their businesses.   

Upright Founders

Since 2011, David Sobotka (BA ’78), CBEY advisory board member, has supported entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers who want to build ventures addressing the needs of both the market and the planet. “We are happy to have been part of the growth of innovation and entrepreneurship at Yale over the past 10 years that is focused on for-profit efforts to promote sustainable economic growth,” says Sobotka. “I continue to be inspired by the business solutions to environmental problems generated by students during their time at Yale.”

Moving to virtual events has allowed for a unique reallocation of resources, so CBEY chose to award two $5000 CBEY Innovation Prizes to acknowledge and support the runners up. “In a year that has been difficult for so many in numerous ways, CBEY is delighted to not only continue this support, but offer two additional grants,” says Ben Soltoff, Environmental Innovation Manager at CBEY.  These awards go to Agricore and Environmental Justice Performance Index.

Ecopackables logo

“The entire slate of applicants this year was impressive, and the four ventures who received funding happen to be emblematic of some key trends that defined the year 2020: the ubiquity of e-commerce, the increasing demand for nutritious plant-based foods, long overdue efforts to center environmental justice, and the urgency of reducing carbon in agriculture and other sectors,” Soltoff says. 

About the recipients:

Upright (Sobotka Prize)

Betty Tang (MBA ’21) and Thu Ra (MBA ’20) co-founded Upright in February 2019. Upright has won several Yale grants and prizes, including CBEY’s 2019 Climate Change Innovation Grant. Upright produces high-protein oatmilk in liquid and instant form. Their oatmilk is on track to be as nutritious as dairy with the same 8g of protein and levels of key vitamins and minerals. Their better-for-you oatmilk will be available in four flavors (original, vanilla, chocolate, and extra-creamy) in shelf-stable family-size and lunchbox-friendly single-serving portions. They enable access to health and sustainability by offering a direct replacement for existing dairy and alternatives that tastes great, avoids common allergens, satisfies nutritional needs, and encourages regenerative agriculture.  

Ecopackables (Sobotka Prize)

EcoPackables is an eco-friendly packaging company founded by Shervin Dehmoubed (Yale College ‘24). Their first product is a 100% compostable shipping mailer. It is made of responsibly sourced corn starch and PBAT, which is a plant-based biopolymer. They are certified by the leading authorities worldwide, meeting American, European, International and Australian standards – including certifications for domestic home compost. Ecopackables plans to launch a second product, 100% compostable, water-activated tape. 

Agricore (CBEY Innovation Prize)

Nat Irwin (Yale College ’21), Ekaterina Danchenko (Yale College ’21), and Seila De Leon (Yale College ’21) co-founded AgriCORE. They have received several entrepreneurship grants from Yale including CBEY’s 2018 Climate Change Innovation Grant. AgriCORE’s mission is to make soil carbon quantification more accessible. Quantifying increasing levels of soil carbon is crucial in persuading more farmers to transition to sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices, such as crop rotation and integration of perennials. Soil carbon quantification is also necessary for agricultural carbon markets to validate carbon sequestration and determine appropriate payouts for carbon credits. AgriCORE’s portable device allows farmers and land managers to analyze soil carbon content without having wait and pay for samples to be analyzed in labs. They are currently working on scaling manufacturing for a large-scale pilot.

Environmental Justice Performance Index (CBEY Innovation Prize)

The Environmental Justice Performance Index team includes Pari Kasotia (MEM ’21) and Nick Dahl (Yale College ’21). Their key customers are institutional investors, rating agencies, and market research agencies. These entities face increasing pressure to make socially and environmentally responsible investment decisions. The Environmental Justice Performance Index seeks to fulfill the unmet need for data and metrics to evaluate corporations on environment justice performance.

Judges in this process included:

  • Kyle Baker, FES/SOM ’06, Managing Director at Guggenheim Partners
  • Adrian Horotan, FES ’10, General Partner at Safer Made
  • Trey Kellett, SOM ’04, Managing Director at Offset Capital Group
  • Yesenia Gallardo, FES ’15, Principal at Occam Advisors, co-founder of Poda Foods and Papalotzin, 2015 Sabin Prize winner
  • Anna Blanding, SOM ‘09, Yale Undergrad, Chief Investment Officer at ConnCAT/ConnCORP, board member of Capital for Change

From here, most winners will throw their hats into the ring for the $25,000 Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize that will be held this spring as part of Startup Yale.