Story by: Tom Lammert, Lecturer at MSU Department of English
Data collected during 2016 by Yale scientists suggests that 70% of Americans believe climate change is happening, yet only a tick over half of us (some 53%) believe global warming results predominately from human behavior. Ask a stranger to provide his or her stance on climate change’s causes and effects and he or she may rant about the issue—global warming is a hoax propagated by bought politicians, or our ever-shifting climate is the greatest threat to national security because it will inexorably hasten the advent of local and global catastrophes of apocalyptic proportions.
Yes, these extreme views exist, but most reasonable people treat the environment’s health as they would his or her own during flu season; there’s no fever and nausea hasn’t kicked in, so a trip to the emergency room isn’t necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt to rest and hydrate in case some malignant illness manifests itself to ravage the body. Still, some Americans take preventative measures. Those who believe global warming will affect them personally (roughly 40% of United States citizens) are the people who refuse to toss a paper coffee cup into a trash bin, who (if they can’t bike or walk to work or town) insist on driving fuel-efficient cars or trucks, who know at least one person maintaining a compost heap.
They’re the ones who will purchase a reusable shopping bag instead of opting for plastic at the grocery store; they’ll happily ditch plastic straws and instead sip a drink through a piece of uncooked bucatini pasta. Some cities (like San Francisco and Malibu, CA) have forced this very change upon restaurants by banning plastic straws, but Allie Brown, a recent graduate of Mississippi State University, doesn’t need this progressive legislation; of her own accord, she’s developing an environment-friendly product, Two Beans in a Pod.
Two experiences, which serendipitously occurred during February of 2018, led Brown to create Two Beans in a Pod. Brown’s fiancé, Aaron Uram, isn’t ashamed to brew his coffee from K-Cups that Brown’s already used. According to Brown, Uram didn’t drink a lot of coffee before the two met, so he doesn’t mind that his coffee tastes stale. “He still does it,” Brown says, and “he thinks it’s perfectly fine.” Around the time Uram began his habit of drinking stale coffee, Brown watched a propaganda film that featured “giant flying saucers made out of K-Cups,” implying that Keurig’s product was overtaking the Earth. The short film prompted Brown to do more research, and she found that in 2016, the number of K-Cups used could have combined to circle the Earth twelve times. It was the combination of this documentary and her fiancé’s habitual recycling of her K-Cups that led Brown to conceive of Two Beans in a Pod.
Brown’s concept is simple: a pod for Keurig coffee makers that can be used twice without sacrificing the coffee’s quality. Whereas the nearly ubiquitous K-Cups pack coffee grounds into a single chamber, Brown’s prototyped a pod that’s spilt—vertically—so each half of the pod keeps the two servings of coffee separate from each other. To make this possible, Brown had to create an adapter for the Keurig machines because these machines puncture the middle of a K-Cup’s top. To make the two-chamber concept feasible, the machine’s needle cannot puncture then funnel hot water through the lid’s center; alternatively, the machine’s needle must puncture points above the centers of both chambers of a pod.
Engineering a solution to this puncture problem proved to be hellacious. While prototyping, Brown had a lot of trouble with her pods’ lids. Her intelligence is evident, so it’s hard to believe that such a small, seemingly simple product could stump a woman who had held two internships at biomedical engineering companies before she switched her academic focus to mechanical engineering. An aspect of intelligence is recognizing when to seek and consequently accept advice from others. Brown says, “Sometimes you sit and look at something for so long that you miss a lot of things, so it’s good to get an outside perspective.” While struggling to resolve Two Beans in a Pods’ lid problem, Brown fielded advice from her mother, who suggested changing the lids’ material. The suggestion worked.
This isn’t the first time Brown sought engineering advice from family members. In fact, Brown talks about how she initially became interested in engineering when she was young, around nine or ten years old. Her father (an engineer) and her brother (also an engineer) had been renovating the family’s home when Brown couldn’t resist getting involved in the project. She asked her dad to teach her about the various aspects of construction work, like using the power tools to craft the boards the family would use to extend to the home’s deck.
Brown’s curiosity and willingness to learn from others didn’t cease. Whereas her mother solved Two Beans in a Pods’ lid crisis, Brown praises the E-Center for everything it’s done to aid her product’s development. “I got a lot of really good feedback, [which] really motivated me.” She spent the month subsequent to her pitch to the PREP board working on her prototype instead of her school work. Why? It was more fun.
Without the advice provided by members of the PREP board and ECAB, Brown wouldn’t have recognized how Two Beans in a Pod reduces distributors’ shipping costs and opens storage space for consumers in addition to providing an affordable and environmentally sustainable alternative to K-Cups. Her company was fully funded by the PREP and ECAB steps of the E-Center’s VentureCatalyst program, and Brown’s currently preparing an argument to present to IRC. She hopes to complete her proposal sometime later this fall.
If she receives funding and Two Beans in a Pod finds success, members of at least two demographics will praise Brown: coffee junkies will love her product’s convenience, efficiency, and the caffeine kick the coffee provides, environmentalists will laud Brown’s commitment to reducing humanity’s environmental footprint, and both groups will praise Two Beans and a Pod for veritably and literally saving the world.