MSU Students Compete in Austin's SXSW Startup Tournament


It may be spring break for Michigan State University, but three students are preparing to show off their startup business idea at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, a technology conference, that kicks off Friday in Austin, Texas.  

As part of the finals for SXSW’s Student Startup Madness tournament, Carbon Cash — created by Bernie Eisbrenner, Pat Schmitz, and Jon Bauer — will compete against seven other student teams by pitching their concept before a panel of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and investors.

“It’s surreal,” says Schmitz, the startup’s COO. “We started Carbon Cash a year ago, and now we’re in the finals of a nationwide contest as one of the top eight student digital media startups in the country. It’s definitely an experience I think we’re going to cherish, but at the same time, we want to go there to win.” 

The app, will be presented on Monday, allows MSU students to track their electricity use, compete with other students, and earn rewards, such as discounts on pizza or a free sandwich, for using less electricity in their dorms. The idea is something Eisbrenner calls a “green, socially responsible marketing trend.”

The digital service, which won the MSU Broad College of Business’s Undergraduate Pitch Competition in November, will launch March 31 in two dorm buildings that house around 500 students, Schmitz says. “Hopefully we can get it university-wide by next year,” he says.

As far as the pitch goes, Schmitz says the team has the presentation down to about three minutes and 50 seconds, just under the four-minute limit. “We’ve just been practicing, practicing, practicing,” he says.

Last year, another Michigan State team, which created Tempo Run, an app that helps users run at the perfect pace, won the SXSW competition. This year, the top three winners will each receive $5,000 of credits for Google Cloud Platform, which allows startups to build, deploy, and run web applications and mobile apps.

Also at the festival next week will be the state’s University Research Corridor — Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University.

“The three URC universities are active hubs of innovation and technology,” said Britany Affolter-Caine, the Corridor’s program manager. “We want to get the word out to entrepreneurs, investors, and innovation-based companies in the United States and around the world that the URC is Michigan’s innovation engine.”