Two MADE students help EcoForge take third in Brown Venture Prize competition

Brown’s Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship held its seventh annual Brown Venture Prize pitch competition last week, with more than $50,000 in prizes awarded. EcoForge, a building material technology company developing affordable, high-performance building materials from local agricultural residues, took home third place and $10,000. 

The Brown Venture Prize supports teams who have identified a significant opportunity and whose ventures have the potential to create impact at scale. Eight teams competed for the top three slots. Along with funding, winners also receive expert mentorship, and introductions to leaders in the Brown entrepreneurial community and beyond. 

EcoForge’s team is made up of two students from the joint Brown School of Engineering and Rhode Island School of Design master of art in design engineering (MADE) program, Rongyu Na ’24 and Myung Bender ’24. The duo teamed up with Kaixi (Alex) Yang, a recent masters graduate of Pennsylvania to participate in the pitch to a panel of alumni judges who have founded and led ventures across many sectors and scaled their ventures affecting millions of people worldwide.

EcoForge is a venture which develops local, sustainable building materials from agricultural residues and plants, while supporting local communities, replacing energy-intensive, fossil-based materials. This sustainable approach increases resilience to climate and supply chain risks, supports local farming, and job creation. Moreover, the toxic chemical-free material recipe promotes healthier indoor environments.

Na has extensive experience in research, technology innovation, and design strategy, having previously worked and collaborated with companies like Amazon, NASA, PSA Group, Subaru, and Nissan Silicon Valley Research Center. Bender is a seasoned business operations lead with a passion for tech and startups, and previously played a pivotal role in Bumble’s IPO, managing a global team. Her diverse career includes roles in beauty tech, healthcare messaging, and media companies like NBC. Both students are now part of the MADE cohort, pursuing their advanced degree in design engineering through Brown and RISD. 

Simulacrum, an AI software venture that allows enterprises and institutions to make effective operational decisions in complex markets by providing them with behavioral market models learned from data to accurately predict future economic trends, even under the stress of unpredictable events, took top prize honors in the competition. Sift, a browser extension that makes secondhand shopping easy, took both second place and fan favorite awards.