UPDATE: Voting is now open on which student group is awarded a $10,000 follow-up grant from the Ford Blue Oval Network. To cast your vote, go here.
A student group at Rocky Mountain College is looking to turn discarded glass into sustainable jobs.
The Rocky Mountain College Enactus team, the school’s student-run business club, hopes the project will create jobs for some of the homeless people who use the Hub, the Mental Health Center’s drop-in site in downtown Billings.
The team has already won a $25,000 grant from the Ford Blue Oval Network, part of the Ford Motor Co. Fund, and it is now competing for a $10,000 follow-up grant to fund a social enterprise business that will “upcycle” and repurpose glass.
“This is our biggest project,” said Karen Beiser, an associate professor of business who advises the Enactus team. “Normally, our grants are $1,500, so getting $25,000 nearly floored us. This is a biggie.”
The Enactus club at Rocky is part of an international nonprofit whose goal is to inspire students to better the world through entrepreneurial action. At Rocky, the upper-division class has no lectures, tests or homework, just projects based on what students have learned in other business classes.
The club generally works on four to five projects a year, guided by educators and supported by local business leaders. Some of the projects stretch out over multiple years, and students can take up to four semesters of the Enactus class.
The idea is to employ Hub clients to reuse glass to create marketable products. Enactus team members want to help homeless people acquire job skills and make some money, and also to support the mission of the Hub with some of the profits from the enterprise.
“It’s not the thing that’s going to save the Hub,” Beiser said. “It’s more about creating opportunity.”
Long-term, States said, the team would like to buy a big crusher and produce large quantities of crushed glass that could go to road construction or other uses.
In the meantime, team members did some research and figured they could use recycled bottles to make “art glass,” candle holders suspended on chains. With some purchased equipment and some donated equipment, team members have been working in the basement of the Hub to create candle holders.
Their plans to immediately employ Hub clients were postponed because of liability concerns on the part of the Mental Health Center. States said the organization determined it couldn’t allow its clients to work in the basement because of inadequate egress.
That’s why the team is competing for the $10,000 grant, to help find another suitable location in downtown Billings that would allow those clients to start working, and to accommodate a glass crusher at some future date.
“We continue to run into road blocks, and we continue to find ways to get through them,” Beiser said.
The winner of the $10,000 grant will be chosen by a public vote, States said. The Ford Blue Oval Network has net yet given them a link to a site where people can vote, she said, but that information will be posted on the Enactus club’s Facebook page as soon as it is available.
In winning the $25,000 grant, Rocky joined student groups from much larger campuses, including Michigan Tech, Wayne State University, the University of Georgia, UW Madison and Northeastern University.
Beiser, who has advised the class for nine years, doesn’t find that surprising. And she fully expects the team to advance from the regional Enactus tournament in Arkansas in April to the national tournament in St. Louis in May.
“I love winning trophies,” she said. “They tease me mercilessly, but I love trophies.”