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Olin Alum's Startup Wins Forbes Change the World Competition

Opus 12, an innovative environmental startup co-founded by Olin College alumna Etosha Cave ’06, won the Forbes for-profit Change the World Competition at the Under 30 Summit in Boston October 17. The Grand Prize brings with it $425,000 in grants and funding.

“It felt great to win this prize,” said Cave. “It was quite a bit of work, so it’s nice to have that effort rewarded.”

Company CEO Nicholas Flanders, who co-founded the company with Cave and Kendra Kuhl, pitched Opus’s technology at the competition to a panel of judges that included actor Ashton Kutcher, who is a longtime tech investor. Opus 12 took top honors along with Pillar Technologies, a predictive analytics startup, besting more than 1,000 companies that took part in the competition.

The prize money includes a direct investment of $200,000 from Kutcher and two other investors, and the rest in the form of advertising and marketing support from Forbes.

“This will directly help our company to build our product faster and to have additional resources to help with the company,” Cave says of the investments. She hopes the advertising and marketing support from Forbes will help with a planned crowdfunding campaign.

“Having Ashton Kusher involved could really help our crowdfunding campaign because of the celebrity appeal,” says Cave.

Opus 12 hopes to become a game-changer in the energy business. The company’s technology would take carbon dioxide from oil refineries, natural gas plants and oil fields, which produce some 100 million tons of carbon emissions per year, and use them to make higher value chemicals such as ethanol, a source of fuel for cars.

The company recently learned it is one of 27 teams to advance to the semi-final round of the NRG Carbon X-Prize, a $20 million global competition to develop technologies to recycle carbon emissions. As part of that competition, they must develop a working model of their technology by August of next year. They hope to be taking orders for their new product by December 2017.

“There are many miles to go before we get there, but that’s our goal,” says Cave.