SOU teams fare well in business competition

Aquaponics group takes third out of 17 teams

Two groups of Southern Oregon University students who presented social business models Monday at the Oregon Social Business Challenge were among the best.

One team’s solution to increasing the availability of local food, called closed-loop aquaponics, took third place out of 17 teams, according to a press release from the Oregon University System, which organized the event.

Another SOU group made the top seven by presenting a model for a student sustainable farm to provide affordable organic produce to low-income families in Jackson County while maintaining a learning environment for the community.

The aquaponics team made it through the first round, but was one of four teams eliminated in the final round by a panel of 18 judges, including SOU President Mary Cullinan and other decision makers from across the state.

“It was all very edifying,” said Andrew Mount, who was part of SOU’s team that presented aquaponics.

The aquaponics team, which includes senior business major Jeffrey Jensen and junior biology major Sean Lowry, will split $2,000 in scholarships for its finish.

Aquaponics is the marriage of fish farming and hydroponic farming, Mount said. Hundreds of fish or crustaceans live inside a 2,500- to 5,000-gallon pond, and as the pond begins to dirty, the water is siphoned out and used to bathe the roots of plants growing from nearby beds of gravel — all beneath a dome.

Everything the plants need for food is in the fish waste, he said, and both the fish and plants can be harvested.

The group is partnered with Ashland-based Pacific Domes, which is providing the first 90-foot-wide dome to house the project and plans to launch a business based around the idea, he said.

Southern Oregon Aquaponics will be the name of the organization, said Mount, an environmental science and business sophomore at SOU. “The sky is the limit as far as I’m concerned, at this point,” said Mount, 43, of Talent.

A team from Oregon State University won the competition, taking home $5,000 in scholarships. It proposed to establish a youth sports league for students with disabilities in Benton County.

Students from University of Oregon, who proposed a mobile medical van to serve rural communities in Klamath County and Lake County, took second place and $3,000 in scholarships.

Portland State University’s Social Innovation Incubator program and Springboard Innovation, a similar independent incubator program, are providing at least $2,500 in financial support to help the winning team’s model get off the ground.

Making his way out of the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, where the competition was held, Mount said Springboard expressed interest in helping strategize how to launch a business based around aquaponics.

“We have the credibility after this,” Mount said. “The intention will be to find financial backing within the coming months.”

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