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Duke Wins Southern Regional – Walmart Sustainable Business Competition


The winning student, Robert Olinger, with one of the Walmart competition judges, Marty Gilbert.


Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can. Spins a web, any size, catches thieves just like flies. Look Out! Here comes the Spiderman. 

            February 12, 2010, engineering a spider silk suite won Duke MBA student, Robert Olinger, first place in Walmart’s southern regional sustainable business competition.  Olinger presented a business plan for harvesting spider silk fibers from genetically modified silkworms.  By isolating and implanting a spider gene into silkworm DNA, silkworms were made to produce spider silk, a very strong and flexible organic compound.  The produced spider silk fibers are very marketable for use in ballistic garb because spider silk is stronger than steal, while remaining incredibly light.  Also, since the fibers are organic, they are can be composted, “each pound [of biodegradable spider silk] replaces two pounds of non-biodegradable plastic,” said Olinger.  Olinger looks forward to taking his spider suit project to nationals. 

            2010 Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge is the third year Walmart has held a national student competition for the best student invented sustainable product or service, but this is the first year Emory University has participated and hosted the southern regional.  Olinger’s competitors were a group of undergrads from Claflin University, MBA students from University of Florida, MBA students from University of North Carolina, and an Emory Law student, Lauren Silve.  Silve’s business idea, Med Plus Connect, was to create a non-profit that would ship old, but still usable medical supplies and machines from American hospitals to hospitals in developing countries, thus recycling items that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill.  Others had projects ranging from fair trade computer bags to portable LED ultraviolet water sanitation devices, but the spider suite won out.       

-Leila Virji ’10

Photo: Courtesy of Leila Virji

*For more background info on the Walmart Competition, see Leila’s article in Issue 3


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