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UT Student-founded Company Wins First Place in Two Competitions for New Eco-App

Gazelle Ecosolutions

3 min read

From The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts Press Release


Gazelle Ecosolutions—an eco-restoration startup founded by a group of undergraduate students at The University of Texas at Austin—recently won top prizes for developing an app that allows ranchers in sub-Saharan Africa to sustainably manage their land. 


The startup was formed in conjunction with geography professors Thoralf Meyer and Kelley Crews. The team won first place in the McCombs School Texas Sustainability Innovation Challenge (TSIC), which earned them a spot in the prestigious Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge—a national competition held this year in San Diego, California—at which they were also awarded the top prize out of over 50 top startups.


“The Gazelle guys smoked it,” say Meyer. “It is about time that science is translated into a language that is understood by everyone, and if it contributes to protecting the baseline of an ecosystem, even better. I am glad to see that a campfire idea matured into an easy-to-use app. Without the team’s combined efforts, it would have stayed a dream. Maybe, what started with an idea will change the world—a bit.”


Their app helps ranchers to make data-driven decisions about grazing allocation on their land by calculating the sustainable carrying capacity of a pasture, facilitating decision-making to balance cattle and game numbers, and providing estimates on annual income from land management practices based on verified carbon offset trading platforms. Once downloaded, the app operates offline—imperative, Crews notes, in the vast Kalahari where cell coverage is largely unavailable.


“All of this comes at zero cost to the ranchers, creating a win-win scenario of decreasing net global carbon emissions while improving community resilience,” says Crews, “while both honoring self-determination in “Majority World” (sometimes referred to as “developing”) countries and hitting multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or “Global Goals.”


The students—Ben Breed and Amod Daherkar, both from the McCombs School of Business and the College of Liberal Arts, and Mihir Bendre and Siddharth Thakur from the Cockrell School of Engineering—approached Meyer and Crews in January of 2022 about working on a sustainability project. Utilizing Meyer’s idea for a mobile application for which he and Crews saw a need based on research in Botswana, the student team founded their company, created the app, and entered the McCombs TSIC Pitch—field testing with Meyer just outside of Austin along the way.


“We are excited about leveraging voluntary carbon markets and UT-based environmental science research to drive real, tangible ecological change in the Kalahari,” says the student team.


This summer, three of the four students went to Botswana with Meyer and Crews to test drive the app during the Global Career Launch Student Internships program, which Meyer was awarded through Texas Global. The team established its first carbon offset project in its pipeline across a 17,000 hectare region of game ranches in the southwest Kalahari. The project, classified as a non-conversion—meaning it doesn’t require alteration of the natural state of the land—prevents the development of unsustainable agriculture, protecting both the ecology of the land and its carbon sequestration potential to benefit the local communities. The project aims to utilize revenues from carbon reductions/offsets to finance sustainable development projects in the region in consultation with local stakeholders and government leaders.


“The University’s efforts to enhance its international profile are often underestimated, ”Meyers notes of the Botswana Global Career Launch Internship, as well as faculty-led study-abroad programs. “The world does not stop on the edge of campus or an international boundary. Often, we need to look at issues from a global perspective. This perspective cannot be taught in a classroom; it needs to be experienced by the student firsthand.”

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