Plastic-Reducing Idea Takes Aggie To Super Bowl LIII
“The idea just came to me while walking my dog.”
That’s how Texas A&M University student Hayden Smith ’19 thought of the innovative idea that’s now taking him all the way to the Super Bowl, as a winner of PepsiCo’s 2019 Game-Changers Competition.
A double-major in economics, in the College of Liberal Arts, and environmental geoscience, in the College of Geosciences, Smith used his knowledge of business and the environment to develop a plastic-reduction concept to pitch to PepsiCo. Now named one of five winners of the competition, Smith is excited not only to enjoy an all-expenses-paid, 4-day trip to Super Bowl weekend in Atlanta, but also to see his award-winning idea possibly become a reality.
“It intermixes a lot of what I’ve learned in environmental geosciences — sustainability and the reductions of plastic — and the economics of cost savings by reducing inputs,” he said. “Those concepts are centered around digital technology, which acts as a connecting point with you and the brand because, in-effect of buying this brand, you are now participating in a global sustainability initiative. It’s a big system — how it comes together.”
Smith is a serial ideator, because “you never know the power of ideas,” he said. The plastic-reduction idea came to him about six months ago, one day when he was walking his dog. About a month later he heard about the PepsiCo competition, made the video pitch for his idea, and entered it.
“I didn’t tell a soul about it, until I heard back in December,” he said.
Now Smith is headed to Atlanta for Super Bowl 53, and his sustainability-minded idea could potentially be implemented by PepsiCo.
He and the other four PepsiCo Game-Changers Competition winners will participate in promotional filming, watch the half-time show rehearsal, be in a NASDAQ stock exchange bell closing, take a market tour, attend the Super Bowl, take photos with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, meet NFL players, and more.
Thinking like an entrepreneur
Smith has a passion for both sustainable policy development and sustainability-focused businesses, and his entrepreneurial instincts have driven him for a long time.
“I remember, the day I made my first dollar, when I was about 8 years old — it kind of just lit me on fire,” he said. “Since then, I’ve always had little side jobs and am always coming up with new ideas.”
From 2017 to 2018, Smith and two friends, a Texas A&M Geosciences graduate student and a University of Houston graduate student, formed a startup company to develop a holistic student services software application. Their team completed YCombinator’s Startup School, a program of one of the major startup accelerators in Silicon Valley, and they also participated in Texas A&M Mays Business School’s McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship Startup Aggieland business incubator program.
“The most influential thing for entrepreneurship, for me, has been to get around people who have a similar mindset, and to keep a close-knit group with those people,” he said. “I highly recommend the incubator program here and the many events of Startup Aggieland; those are amazing places to meet like-minded people.”
Building a startup was an invaluable experience for him.
“Starting an official Texas LLC, and working with other people who were hungry to develop a useful software for others really opened my eyes in a lot of ways, and now I would like to own my own business one day,” he said. “I think entrepreneurship is a huge part of solving so many of the problems society faces.”
A passion for sustainable solutions
Smith’s affection for Aggieland has also been with him for most of his life, he said.
“I grew up in Allen, Texas, and I’d been coming to College Station since I was in diapers,” Smith said. “Both of my grandfathers are professors emeritus in the Texas A&M System — Dr. Norman Guinasso, research professor emeritus of oceanography at Texas A&M, and Dr. Donald E. Harper Jr., professor emeritus of marine biology at Texas A&M Galveston. They’ve both been the most amazing mentors.”
“I was just drawn to Texas A&M. I was admitted, and it’s been a dream ever since.”
At Texas A&M, professors in both of his majors have helped him understand the most critical problems facing Earth today and how sustainable solutions could be developed.
“My favorite economics class has been with Dr. Adel Varghese, instructional associate professor of economics, who teaches development economics,” Smith said. “That’s been most influential for me, because you can really see the change that can occur by shaping policy; and likewise, you can see the negative impacts of not thinking through policy holistically.”
Smith also credits the teaching of Dr. Vatche Tchakerian, professor of geography, for “opening my eyes to not just the problems we face, but looking at the grand solutions of actually moving in a better direction for our planet and people.” And, Geography Professor Dr. Wendy Jepson’s “resources class also gave me a much more well-rounded view of policy,” he said.
Texas A&M has made a huge impact on his life. “The deep, intrinsic sense of community is what I’ll miss the most,” he said. “It really is a family-type experience.”
After graduating in December 2019, he would like to attend law school and focus on a J.D. in environmental law, and also pursue a joint master’s degree in development or resource economics, and hopes to eventually work in public service or policy-making.
“I want to make an impact, in any way that I can. Whether it’s through changing the marketing and production of companies, or advocating sustainable policy — I’m all about it.”