2015 “SECU Emerging Issues Prizes for Innovation” Competition Winners





Congratulations to our
2015 SECU emerging issues prizes for innovation competition winners!


$50,000 Grand prize winner

seal the seasons, llc, University of north carolina at chapel hill

UNC-CH students lead this for-profit venture, which hopes to increase access to healthy food across North Carolina while bolstering the economic viability of small-scale farms. Seal the Seasons aims to create a market for blemished crops and to extend the local food season from harvest to year-round by processing these foods. The company is piloting a program to process, freeze, and distribute such produce via Durham’s Bull City Food Hub. Seal the Seasons, which has partnered with local farmers, food aggregators, and potential customers, is poised to launch a second pilot this spring.

Company founders have strong local food and business backgrounds. Patrick Mateer, an economics undergraduate, has helped execute a local wholesale produce program and spent the last semester accelerating the business through Watson University. William Chapman, a nutrition public health graduate student, has five years of experience with a large food distributor and took Seal the Seasons through UNC-Chapel Hill’s Launch the Venture Accelerator Program.

$25,000 First Runner-up

canopy scientific, 
duke university

North Carolina’s forests provide forestry jobs and products, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and a range of natural ecosystem services, including absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Lucrative carbon offset projects that pay landowners not to cut or develop forestland are aimed at preserving this acreage. However, these projects are technically challenging to implement and require expensive forest measurement. The solution for this emerging issue: reliable and cost-effective measurement of forest carbon for landowners using forest biometric data collection and analysis, satellite imagery, laser-equipped small drones, and modern statistical models that accurately measure forest carbon.

Giving small North Carolina landowners access to lucrative carbon markets is critical to our state’s long-term environmental health, economic competitiveness, and natural identity. Canopy Scientific offers a sustainable, market-based solution to conserving family forestland for future generations.

$10,000 Fan favorite WINNER

Ellerbe creek litter trap, DUKE UNIVERSITY

Duke Engineers for International Development (DEID) is a student organization that sends students around the globe to assess and implement engineering projects. After working with communities to identify their needs, student teams collaborate with professors and professionals to fundraise and design solutions. This year, DEID is partnering with Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association (ECWA), a local organization that works to preserve the Durham, NC creek where water pollution is a recurring issue. Ellerbe Creek feeds into Falls Lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for the City of Raleigh, a flood-control area for eastern Carolina, and a community recreational area. The creek runs through many residential areas and is open to the public. As a result, an overwhelming amount of litter finds its way into the creek and downstream to the lake.

Our proposal is to install engineered litter traps that will collect trash without disturbing the ecosystem and natural surroundings. Various traps already exist, but can cost as much as $120,000. Our goal is to develop a cost-efficient trap so that we can not only tackle this issue in Ellerbe Creek, but also easily extend our project to other water sources. Our team, composed of 15 Duke University students in a variety of academic focuses, ranging from public policy to civil and biomedical engineering, will be designing and implementing the project over the next year with the oversight of Dr. David Schaad, our organization advisor and a professor of civil and environmental engineering.


Freshspire Inc., North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, East Carolina University

There is a gap in effective food distribution in North Carolina. The state is ranked among the top in the nation for citizens experiencing food shortages and for childhood obesity. Yet, grocery stores are throwing out expired food on a daily basis, food that goes into landfills and produces 20 percent of all landfill methane gas emissions. To make matters worse, North Carolina is set to exhaust its remaining landfill space in the next decade. FreshSpire aims to solve these problems by reducing food waste, food insecurity, and the amount of food deposited in landfills. FreshSpire is a system designed to increase communication between grocery stores and consumers. A mobile app notifies users when grocers offer daily markdowns on foods near expiration dates. This helps shoppers on limited budgets gain access to healthy foods while boosting the bottom line of grocery stores.

Our team includes college students who came up with the idea as high school seniors and have proven themselves by earning honors such as: the UNC Undergraduate Social Entrepreneurship Challenge (1st place), Eastern North Carolina Innovation Competition, American Dream Seekers competition, and Global Entrepreneurship Week. Team mentors include Dr. Fred Eshelman and Maya Ajmera, founder of the Global Fund for Children. We are in touch with Food Lion executives, as well as Aldi and Publix. The team is passionate about social change and solving food distribution problems with FreshSpire.

$5,000 emerging idea WINNER

Lettuce learn, appalachian state university

The Lettuce Learn Project ensures school garden success by supporting outdoor classrooms to bring the practices of garden-based sustainability education and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education into the pre-K setting. This project connects university resources to the needs of our community by overseeing an internship program, offering teacher-training opportunities, and organizing an interactive resource-sharing network.

Lettuce Learn trains and supplies garden educators to local pre-K programs using our internship and Grandparent Garden Mentor programs. Our interactive resource and idea-sharing network connects our community’s learning gardens directly to organizations or individuals who have the knowledge, skills, time, and materials needed. The collaborative Lettuce Learn Sustainability Summer Institute helps local teachers improve their curriculum by using gardens as a place-based, experiential, transformative educational tool.