The NOGECO team members, seen here on March 7.

A group of local students has won a $5,000 prize for their convincing pitch to turn landfill-bound tomatoes into organic and eco-friendly beauty products.

NOGECO, a team of seven middle, high school and early college students from Nogales and Rio Rico, was awarded the funds as part of a virtual event called Shift Day, launched on April 22 (the 50th anniversary of Earth Day) to support youth startups aimed at creating sustainable solutions to climate change.

“I was super excited and honored to win the prize,” said team member Sergio Astorga, a 19-year-old pre-law student at the University of Arizona. “My team and I are looking forward to take this to the next step.”

NOGECO plans on using the funds to develop and test prototypes, then create an online store and launch their tomato-based product.

Winning the prize “really put into perspective for me how real this project we’ve created is,” said Mina Talavera, a seventh-grade Little Red School student who at 13 is the youngest member of the team.

Talavera’s mother Nisa said the experience of being part of NOGECO has been “incredible” for her daughter. “Her confidence has grown exponentially and given her something to be really proud of,” she said.

Shift Day was sponsored by the University of Arizona Eller College of Management, Tech Core and McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, and planned and facilitated by the organization For The World.

Shane Reiser, founder of For The World, said it was no surprise that NOGECO won the first-place prize for its pitch. “They showed up to Shift Day with a ton of energy and optimism.”

“For me, winning the prize wasn’t the best part, it was being able to see support from so many people, and the community pulling together to support the youth,” said Vivian Probst, a 17-year-old Nogales High School student who serves as the group’s brand and marketing director.

In addition to Astorga, Talavera and Probst, the NOGECO members include Janelle Bastian-Estrella, 17, Rio Rico High School; Andrea Altamirano, 16, RRHS; Luis Barnett-Borbon, 18, NHS; and Fernanda Ruiz, 17, NHS.

With millions of pounds of imported produce still ending up in the local landfill each year, the NOGECO members say they have a long-term goal of creating a composting center that would divert food waste from the dump while also creating jobs.

NOGECO is supported by Startup Unidos and the UA Office of Sustainability’s Compost Cats, who guided the team through workshops that focused on economic, environmental and social sustainability.

(From a news release submitted by Startup Unidos and the UA Compost Cats.)

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