PLOTting the way to a better future

By Laura Fernandez

With climate change propelling our planet to a tipping point, University of Melbourne students are devising solutions to combat climate change and protect the planet.

Climate change was a key theme across many of the teams who participated in the 2021 UniMelb StartUp Pitch Competition, which aims to activate an entrepreneurial mindset within the University’s student community. The competition is hosted by the Faculty of Business and Economics and Melbourne Business School, but encourages participation from across the University, recognising the value of multi-disciplinary teams and ideas.

This year’s competition saw registrations triple as budding entrepreneurs from nearly every faculty stepped up to the challenge. Designed for students with no prior experience, experts and mentors from the startup world guided teams throughout the competition as they developed and tested their startup ideas.

UniMelb StartUp Pitch Competition 2021 from FBE Marcom on Vimeo.

The winning team, ‘PLOT’ was formed at a mixer event for the competition, where Master of Management (Marketing) student, Makenzie Thomas pitched the idea of a platform where micro-investments could collectively fund land conservation. Dominic Barr (Bachelor of Commerce) joined forces with Makenzie to develop the pitch, whilst Engineering students Lenin Ocegueda de la Cruz and Yoshio Nakagawa focused on the research and possibilities behind the idea. According to the team, the 2021 UniMelb StartUp Pitch Competition was “full of bright people coming to grips with the prospects of an increasingly grim future, and we were just one of the climate-focused groups that happened to form.”

Based in Melbourne, Mexico, and Japan, team PLOT saw entrepreneurship as a way of extending their learning in the classroom. Their solution of bringing together deforestation prevention and micro-ownership aims to generate collective conservation of biodiverse forests to build a better future for everyone.

Team PLOT (L-R): Makenzie Thomas, Dominic Barr, Yoshio Nakagawa, Lenin Ocegueda de la Cruz

How does it work? “PLOT sources and purchases land in need of protection. Land is then divided into square metre plots and sold via the platform, where customers can build their portfolios. Return on investment is then generated for customers through offsetting initiatives... To tackle the ambitious task of protecting biodiversity, we’re creating an accessible platform and community for everyone to have a genuine, tangible and transparent impact on nature conservation and climate change.”

2021 UniMelb StartUp Pitch Competition finalists, judges, and organisers

The idea and business model were refined and validated throughout the competition’s four bootcamp workshops, where participants are coached on how to structure a pitch deck and appeal to investors. The panel of judges comprised experts from Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship, Melbourne Entrepreneurial Centre, and the Faculty of Business and Economics.

Paul Jensen (Deputy Dean, Faculty of Business and Economics) noted, “one of the greatest things about the entrepreneurship community is that it really is a community, and the University of Melbourne is really strong in that ethos.” As part of the 2021 UniMelb StartUp Competition prize package, team PLOT will be joining a broader community of entrepreneurs in Melbourne Accelerator Program’s Velocity Program in October this year. In addition, the team is working with the competition sponsor, GoDaddy, to put together a website, emails, and other backend materials to work on their minimum viable product (MVP), create the PLOT brand, and launch PLOT to the market.

Looking forward, team PLOT hopes to engage with angel investors to get their platform off the ground and start empowering individuals to build wealth through forest micro-ownership. “We’re careening towards catastrophe, and we want to try and do our bit to slow that down, because, as a society, there isn’t any time to waste.”

“PLOT is really excited for the future. We’re seeing more and more how important climate action is, and now is such a great time to be in this space. In the next two years, we’d love to see PLOT purchasing its first piece of biodiverse land, hosting this on our platform, and enabling everyday people to protect Australia’s beautiful habitat from destruction.”