Cool composting leads Brandcenter students to SXSW

Cool composting leads Brandcenter students to SXSW

Two Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter students head to the SXSW Interactive Festival next week as finalists in the 60 Seconds to SXSW contest, which asked college students for a 60-second video pitch to get people interested in composting.

Aldo Padilla and Rob Stone will present Dirtie, an app that helps composters connect with their community. The contest’s sponsor, Team Detroit, received submissions from 35 teams representing 16 universities. Judges chose the Dirtie team as one of three finalists to present at the festival, where they will have five minutes to pitch their idea. The winners, whose idea will be produced, will be determined by three judges, and by a current online vote.

“Our goal for this competition was to increase awareness about Team Detroit at portfolio schools and universities with creative-oriented curriculums,” said Traci Armstrong, senior vice president and director of talent acquisition at Team Detroit. “Based on the participation rate — and the effort involved to enter this competition — we have been thrilled with the response.”

The Dirtie initiative weaves traditional forms of communication such as stickers, pop-ups and word of mouth with an app that helps users see and interact with other people that compost.

“The No. 1 motivator to do something is knowing that other people around you do it,” Padilla said. “So how do we create a window to see who else is doing it around you? … We thought making an app for people who actually do it to bring them together.

“Some people compost, but they don’t garden. Some people garden, but they don’t compost. So we felt like there could be a community of trading, and it’s an intrinsic social reward. There’s a communal driver behind this.”

That’s where Padilla thought the app would work best, and his instincts paid off.

“We had a few app concept ideas entered into the contest, but our judges were impressed with the comprehensive nature of the Dirtie app, particularly the educational component,” Armstrong said.  

Anyone can build an app, Padilla said, but the challenge for him and Stone was how to get people interested and involved. They evolved their idea into an actual initiative with campaign components with the means to reach people other than expecting people to gravitate to the app.

They figured out a way to start a grassroots campaign using the monster-like microbe characters Stone had created called “dirties” to make it more approachable.

“Seeing how cool compost could look made us run with making these little microbes into something people could relate to and share,” Stone said. “Composting needs something fun and energetic. A lot of green initiatives end up feeling like a chore, and that's something we wanted to get away from. A lot of it feels like a solo endeavor, and there's no immediate reward or way of measuring your contributions. If there was a way of seeing that other people in your immediate surroundings were also doing it, you'd feel more supported and involved.”

To view the finalists’ videos and vote, visit


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