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Culver freshman pitches using lemon paper to replace plastic packaging

Tom Coyne
Shannon (Xiangning) Li '27 won the Term 2 Elevator Pitch Competition. (Photo by Lizziey Sherk)

Nov. 3, 2023

A Culver Academies freshman with the idea of using packaging made of lemons to reduce plastic waste was selected as the winner of this term’s Elevator Pitch Competition sponsored by The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur.

Shannon (Xiangning) Li ’27 of Qingdao, China, won a $200 gift card for her idea of using bio-packaging made of extracted lemon fibers to replace plastic packaging.

Li had submitted an entry in Term 1 about making paper out of lemons. She got some feedback from the judges, who are the faculty from The Rubin School, about ways she could improve her idea. Lizziey Sherk, a senior instructor in The Rubin School, said Li then created a prototype of the paper and reached out to 10 manufacturers to gauge their interest.

The manufacturers told Li they were interested in her idea of making lemon paper, but they were most interested in eliminating plastic packaging.

“So she pivoted and shifted her idea to create a paper packaging made of lemons that keep things from breaking in the mail,” Sherk said. “She was given the idea of mixing the lemons with some new materials to make it more affordable and make it more feasible. It’s been exciting to watch her growth.”

Li was among 11 students who entered the competition. Competitors were asked to propose a potential business idea that solved a headache in the area of social entrepreneurship.

Li said during her one-minute pitch that one lemon can create six pieces of paper. She said she believes she could produce even more sheets by using machines.

“Our material has a natural scent, different colors and different sizes for our customers’ convenience,” Li said. “For every product a customer buys, we will plant a lemon tree.”

The purpose of the competition is to give all Culver students interested in entrepreneurship the opportunity to pitch ideas, Sherk said.

“The competition gives students the chance to work on a lot of different skills. They are working on their public speaking skills and they have to do it in less than a minute, so there is an organization component,” Sherk said. “We’re judging them on their idea, the feasibility of the idea and whether it is going to actually solve a headache in the community. This is a great opportunity to engage in experiential learning and entrepreneurial mindset.

In Term 1, 10 students entered the competition and Peter Bilicic ’25 of New York City and Finley Johnson ’25 of Culver won for their idea of “Burgers and Beer off the Pier,” a food delivery service on the lake.

The Term 3 competition on Feb. 6-7 is going to focus on environmental entrepreneurship and Term 4 competition on April 11-12 is going to focus on for-profit pursuits.

“We want students to be thinking in different categories,” Sherk said. "We want them innovating their ideas so they are meeting the needs of the broader community.”

The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur is named in honor of a 1968 Culver graduate who has deep roots in the beverage industry as owner of The Republic of Tea since 1994 and as owner of Ron Rubin Winery in Sonoma County, California, since 2011.  He endowed The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur at Culver in 2009.


Jack Christiansen '25, Emmanuel Camacho Rodriguez '25, Finnley Johnson '25 and Gage Smith '25 took part in the Term 2 Elevator Pitch Competition. Johnson and Peter Bilicic '25 won the Term 1 contest. (Photo by Andrew Crowell) 





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