Student group plants seed for hydroponic farm on campus

March 23, 2011

A dedicated group of ASU students are laying the foundation to an innovative approach to growing food.

The best part is, they don’t have to worry about getting their hands dirty. Download Full Image

For Roo@ASU, a local chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a nationally recognized thinktank, their solution to raise naturally grown, nutrient rich food comes in the form of hydroponic farming.

“Simply put, it is a way of growing plants in a nutrient-solution using water but no soil,” said Gabriel Sanchez, sustainability senior. Sanchez is one of three team members that make up Roo@ASU.

“We are harnessing emerging agricultural technologies,” Sanchez said. “We are establishing a new model which we call New American Agriculture that will create work, wealth and health for ASU and our community. Coming from ASU, a(n) (Ashoka) Changemaker Campus, a leader in innovation, we really take that as motivation to keep doing innovative things with our project.”

Vertical hydroponic farming systems allow for high density vegetable production, which maximizes the use of water and nutrients and produces higher crop yields. The pots, which are linked together, share water from a reservoir tank that circulates throughout the system. The system is much more energy and water efficient than traditional farming, Sanchez said.

The all-student group is the first to use the innovative approach while starting an urban garden.

The farm would consist of more than 2 dozen tower-like structures that contain a mixture of plants growing in pots stacked on top of one another, creating an efficient use of space geared toward an urban setting where space is at a premium. In total the farm system will contain more than 200 individual pots for growing a variety of crops which could include lettuce, spinach, peppers, various kinds of herbs and strawberries. Later, the farm can be adapted for more pots.

“Vertical hydroponic systems are also very easy to expand, maintain and operate, which makes them ideal to be used in an institutional setting,” Sanchez said.

ASU students and Roosevelt Institute fellows Kimi Bellotti, an urban planning senior and Joshua Judd, a philosophy junior, make up the rest of the team.

Roo@ASU began in August of 2010 and has progressed steadily, taking root in the Tempe community and seeking an on-campus home for their hydroponic farm that they hope will fill the demand for healthy, locally grown foods.

“The Tempe campus is food desert,” Belloti said. “There is limited access to fresh, healthy food – a problem easily solved by our initiative.”

On top of building a sustaining business model by creating a pathway for Tempe residents to eat locally grown food, the group also hopes to establish internships where students can work directly with the hydroponic farm, adding an educational level to their initiative.

“We are aiming for social embeddeness,” Bellotti said. “Particularly student embeddesness. We are planning to develop a program that establishes a way for students to run the hydroponic garden. Basically, an opportunity to create internships.”

Roo@ASU already has received a grant from The Roosevelt Institute that will cover a little more than 15 percent of the estimated $3,000 it will take to fully implement the farm. The group plans to start growing vegetables within six months and have already begun outreach to local farmers markets and businesses.

The group plans to be growing crops by fall 2011.

Entrepreneur beats odds to address disease, poverty

March 23, 2011

Tyler Eltringham is not what you would call a typical college student. From being homeless at 16 to becoming the leader of a new venture at 20, Eltringham has taken a different route than most. Despite the odds stacked against him, he is coming out on top.

Eltringham is the CEO of OneShot, a startup dedicated to providing meningococcal meningitis vaccinations to college students living in dormitories and university housing. Download Full Image

“The funding model of OneShot emulates Tom’s Shoes,” Eltringham said. “In a one-for-one fashion, for every meningitis shot purchased on a university campus, we donate a vaccination to the meningitis belt of Africa.”

Eltringham’s passion for helping others comes from years of struggling to understand an illness and take care of his family.

Eltringham moved to Arizona from Dunmore, Pa., at the age of five after his parents divorced. While attending Chandler High School, his mother, Kimberly Harris, was diagnosed with pancreatitis and grand mal epilepsy: two serious illnesses that necessitate continual medical attention.

“No one knew how to deal with her medical problems,” Eltringham said of the doctors responsible for his mother’s care. Needing constant medical treatment meant increased financial hardships for the family, particularly when Eltringham’s stepdad, Mark Harris, left his job to care for his wife.

“He was a veterinarian and we had a pretty good life, but he needed to quit and take care of my mom. … That’s when the financial repercussions kicked in,” Eltringham said.

For three years, Tyler Eltringham and his family faced poverty and on-and-off homelessness, staying intermittently at extended stay motels in the Valley. In his junior year of high school, Eltringham made the decision to drop out of school, focus on work, and earn his GED, which was awarded in 2008.

In 2009, Eltringham visited Arizona State University with a friend, and while on campus, spoke with a staff member who convinced him to apply to enroll. Weeks later, Eltringham was informed of his award for a full-ride scholarship as an ASU Barack Obama Scholar.

“It was so amazing,” Eltringham said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Eltringham said that seeing his mother passed from doctor to doctor with no one wanting to take ownership of her disease infuriated him, but it also inspired him to use his education to advance the medical field. He is currently a pre-med student at ASU and surrounds himself with experiences that will enhance his medical career and allow him to help others.

Eltingham’s venture, OneShot, is one of those experiences. Eltringham leads this startup, with undergraduate student team members Geoff Prall, Ginger Whitesell, Corey Frahm and Tyler Liss. Cumulatively, Eltringham said, the team has the business, medical and community-building expertise needed to get their project off the ground.

Well on their way, OneShot already has been awarded $10,000: the top grant award possible through the ASU Innovation Challenge, a funding competition for students with innovative ideas to solve local or global challenges. Sixteen teams of the 153 that applied were awarded with funding and announced at a reception in February, filled with students, faculty and university leaders.

Eltringham credits mentors Michael Mokwa, chair of the ASU marketing department in the W. P. Carey School of Business, and Denise Link, associate dean of the College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation, with supporting his team and helping him reach his goals of creating impact through the medical field.

“Who knew the background of this amazing man when he came before the judges with his smile and enthusiasm fairly bursting out of his body?” said Gayle Shanks, an Innovation Challenge final round judge and founder and owner of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. “It wasn't just the smile that swayed us; it was his intelligence, his passion and his ability to convey that conviction that drove it home.”

Final round judge Gemma Bulos, award-winning social entrepreneur and director of the Global Women’s Water Initiative, also was impressed.

“I really appreciated that they found an issue that affected both the developed and developing world and found a sustainable way to address it," Bulos said. "The more we as a global community can find things that connect us, the better potential for a collaborative way forward, which to me is at the core of social entrepreneurship.”

Nikki Gusz, a university innovation fellow in ASU’s Office of University Initiatives and an advisory board member for the Innovation Challenge, said that Eltringham and OneShot were successful because they are resourceful, innovative and thoughtful.

“He draws on what he knows: his passion for making a difference in others’ health,” Gusz said. “That’s what the Challenge is all about: helping students move forward with their entrepreneurial ideas to create change in our communities. Tyler is on that path.”

“At the time that I heard about the ASU Innovation Challenge, I certainly did not identify as an entrepreneur,” Eltringham said. His ambition is an attempt to make a difference.

“I have no traditional business background or training, but simply a will to lead and the ambition to succeed.”