Sustainable Design Student Competes in Startup Competition with Sustainability App

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M.S. in Sustainable Design student Morgan Berman is the founder of MilkCrate, an app locating sustainable businesses in Philadelphia.

Morgan Berman, a student in PhilaU’s M.S. in Sustainable Design program, is convinced there is public demand for a digital guide to the city’s environmentally-friendly businesses. She started developing an app called MilkCrate for her master’s thesis project to link those consumers with the information they need to live more sustainable lives.

Now, she has big plans to bring MilkCrate out of the classroom and into the smart phone and tablet market. “MilkCrate is an app that makes it easy to ‘go green’ by connecting you with local sustainable businesses in your neighborhood,” Berman said.

On April 9, Berman is competing against four other student startups at Switch Philly, an annual Philly Tech Week competition. The winner will have the opportunity to pitch their idea to two Philadelphia-based venture capital investment firms, First Round Capital and Osage Partners, and will receive three months of free space at VenturefOrth, a Philadelphia firm that provides guidance for tech startups.

The app allows users to access companies’ sustainability ratings from their mobile devices and connects residents, visitors and business owners with Philadelphia’s vibrant sustainable community. Want to find a restaurant or hardware story with eco-friendly values? Yup, now there’s an app for that.

“Eventually people will be able to write reviews and add new businesses they think should be included in MilkCrate,” she added.

MilkCrate allows users to access companies’ sustainability ratings from their mobile devices.

An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign launch is in the works for the summer. “If we make our goal, we should have our beta release in fall 2014,” Berman said.

The company’s name comes from the idea of people putting milkcrates on the back of their bikes to store their belongings as they ride around the city. The app, Berman said, allows users to gather the business they want to shop at in their digital milkcrate.

To create MilkCrate’s database, Berman gathered and organized information on thousands of local resources and businesses. She currently has 1,600 entries for Philadelphia, and expects that number to increase. She plans to expand the app to include neighboring communities as well as other cities in the future.

MilkCrate has already gained some recognition. Berman won a Tribe 12 Fellowship designed to help young Jewish professionals build socially conscious startups. The social entrepreneurial program, launched in 2011, helped provide Berman with resources for a project coach and legal advice to support her venture.

In addition, Berman recently was selected as a finalist for Philly Stake’s micro-grant event, a local crowdsourcing grant to foster creative problem-solving of social issues.

Robert Fryer, associate professor of sustainable design, said Berman attacked her thesis project with great tenacity. “Morgan is impressive in that she is highly motivated and goal-oriented,” Fryer said. “She’s been in contact with all of the major players in the area about how best to develop this.”

“We are really proud of Morgan’s creativity and the way she leveraged the opportunity we offer in the M.S. in Sustainable Design program,” said Rob Fleming, director of the program.

In addition to serving as Fleming’s graduate assistant, Berman is a member of the University’s sustainability committee where she contributed to the University’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan to reach climate neutrality by 2035.

Find more information about MilkCrate at milkcratephilly.com.

Milkcrate: An App For Sustainable Local Living from Morgan on Vimeo.

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