Aquaponics and Serengetee Win Innovative Start-Up Awards

KLI Innovative Start-up Award Logo

Second Nature Aquaponics, co-founded by CMC Students Peter Fankuchen and Jack Oliphant; and Serengetee, co-founded by CMC student Jeff Steitz, won the 2013 Innovative Start-Up Awards presented by the Kravis Leadership Institute on April 22.

The awards are presented annually to a CMC student or team who proposes a business venture with the intention of putting it into operation. For the first time this year, winners were drawn from two tracks of competitors— commercial and social ventures. The commercial track award went to Second Nature Aquaponics.

“I can hardly express how excited and honored we are to have received the Innovative Start-up Award. We both believe wholeheartedly in our designs and in the necessity of aquaponics as a field moving into the future,” says Fankuchen.

Aquaponics is a variant of hydroponics where plants grow directly in aquarium water leveraging the symbiotic relationship between fish and plants such that the fish provide nutrients for the plants and the plants filter the water for the fish, offering an efficient way of growing plants.

With their “beta bottle,” Fankuchen and Oliphant hope to miniaturize this process and allow people to grow plants in places they have never been able to grow them before.

Says Fankuchen: “(We want plants to be grown everywhere) from a tiny apartment’s window sill to a bookshelf in your office to a mountainous region in Tibet. We really think that they are all equally viable locations to grow produce, you just have to think about a new way to do it.”

Serengetee, which won the social track is a clothing venture that incorporates global fabric into clothing products, including pocket t-shirts, tanks and v-necks. Each Serengetee fabric is partnered with a corresponding cause, allowing the venture to make a difference in the communities that inspire their designs.

Serengetee was founded by a group of college friends, including Steitz, while they were traveling the world on Semester at Sea. They toured marketplaces in over 30 countries and were captivated by the fabric patterns they found along the way. Each vibrant pattern, when incorporated into clothing, reflects the unique colors and symbol of a country.

Both winners receive a $25,000 prize to help their start-up. To apply, students submit a one-page summary of their idea citing competitors, market size, basic costs, projected profits, progress to date and their qualifications. Each applicant then presents a two-minute “fast pitch” to the selection committee. Awardees are expected to check in weekly on their progress and must engage two advisors with relevant expertise. Payments of the $25,000 prize are milestone based.

The Innovative Start-Up Award was founded in 2008 by three young CMC entrepreneurs with the hope of inspiring innovation and risk-taking among their fellow students. The first award offered a prize of $10,000 and was operated as a beta test for Professor Jay Conger’s class. The success of this primary program drew the support of Mr. Henry Kravis ’67, who invested an additional $15,000, bringing the award to a sum of $25,000.

The Kravis Leadership Institute took on the operation of the competition and expanded the application pool to the entire college in order to allow more students to participate.

For more information on the Innovative Start-Up Awards, visit:

For more information on Serengetee, visit:



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