Winners of the latest Social Venture Plan Competition accept the grand prize. From left, Eric Olmsted, Mike Bauer (from the Herbert B. Jones Foundation), Jessica Way, Denise Daniels, Aryn Schatz and Clarence Rieu.
What the World Needs:
A Better Way to Cut Waste and Improve Lives
From brainwave-actuated wheelchairs and rural sanitation to organic dog treats and urban aquaponics, 27 student teams brought technical savvy and social entrepreneurship to new levels at this year’s Social Venture Plan Competition, held on the SPU campus Wednesday, April 17. The seventh annual event attracted more than 120 participants from several schools, all vying for the $2,500 grand prize with their ideas to improve lives … and make enough cash to invest in the future.
Most of this year’s winning ideas dealt directly or indirectly with the reclamation of waste products for social benefit and economic gain. The top project was NIA Wheel, chosen as the $2,500 grand prize winner by the combined votes of more than 75 judges representing the business, nonprofit, academic, and professional community. Mbo Tek came in second, winning the $1,500 Pioneer Award. More than 600 students, faculty, staff, and guests voted for their favorite project of the afternoon; the People’s Choice award of $500 also went to NIA Wheel.
The grand prize winner’s mission: To provide mobility for all people, regardless of disability, through a wheelchair fitted with “neurological impulse actuator” (NIA) technology currently used in the gaming industry. Under the assumption that a device powered by brainwaves would enable users to move about more freely and independently, senior SPU engineering majors Clarence Rieu, Eric Olmsted, and others developed a prototype wheelchair last autumn. The engineers then connected with senior business majors Jessica Way and Aryn Schatz to develop the NIA Wheel business plan.
The team also proposed that a number of their wheelchairs be donated to veterans each year through the Wounded Warrior project, since 7 percent of spinal cord injuries in the U.S. are related to military service.
As the runner-up and winner of the Pioneer Prize presented by Pioneer Human Services, the Mbo Tek team believes they can improve sanitation and hygiene, increase crop yields, and make a profit by installing EcoSan toilets in rural areas of Uganda. The collected “humanure” would be added to other carbon material and composted; after a number of months, the resulting compost would be sold to farmers as fertilizer. EcoSan toilets are currently being deployed by other organizations to good effect in Haiti. The Mbo Tek team included senior global development studies major Lauren Cosgrove, junior business administration major Nathan Burlingame, junior electrical engineering major Jacob Havens, senior business administration major Jessica Mendoza, and senior political science major Kenneth Arap-Wasawas.
In addition to the top two prizes, three honorable mention prizes of $1,000 were also awarded:
- Continuing the theme of waste reclamation, Happy Belly would take organic waste from juicing (leftovers from local juice bars) and convert it into healthy, organic dog treats. Happy Belly was the work of Kerrie Carbary, Duschka Fowler-Dunning, Tauschia Copeland, and Tessa Levine-Sauerhoff, all MBA students from Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle.
- Sprout Organics proposed an aquaponics farm in south-central Seattle to employ refugees and reduce the distance certain produce items travel to your door — especially out of season. Aquaponics, an emerging technology that combines fish production and soil-free vegetable farming, uses waste from fish to fertilize plants. The Sprout Organics project was developed by junior business administration major Kirby White, senior electrical engineering major Vy-Hoa Le, junior business administration major Nicole Spitzer, and junior engineering major Bryan Hildebrandt.
- Waste Smart was another plan to convert unusable waste into a salable product. The team proposed a business that would pay local residents in Rwanda small fees to bring in various types of waste products. Those products would then be converted into either burnable briquettes for home use or full-size bricks for building construction. Waste Smart was the work of business administration major James Gorman, economics major Sergio Mendoza, accounting major Nick Hardy and business management major Emily Stroud, all from Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.
New this year for the SVPC was a collaboration between School of Business and Economics and School of Theology faculty designed to integrate social venture projects into theology classes. Made possible by funds from the Kern Family Foundation, this effort yielded five social venture projects from students in Christian theology and global and urban ministries classes. Most of these teams were highly interdisciplinary.
Darren Siemens, a junior business administration major who got involved with SVPC through his theology class, said “It was really fun, even though we didn’t win anything. I’m looking forward to next year already.”
This is the seventh year of SPU’s Social Venture Plan Competition. Twenty-seven teams presented at the Showcase event, comprising more than 120 students from four different schools — including Northwest Nazarene University, Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and Northwest University in Kirkland. In addition to the 70-plus community judges, more than 600 students, faculty, and staff voted in the People’s Choice balloting.
The Showcase Round was the final leg of the Social Venture Plan Competition. Earlier stages in the competition included a series of seminars on the basics of business planning, followed by a scoring of the teams’ written plans and coaching sessions with knowledgeable businesspeople, community leaders, and other professionals. In all, more than 160 community volunteers offered time as readers, instructors, coaches, and judges.
Ben Johns of REI, a returning SVPC volunteer, called it an “energizing experience — an inspiring program that is clearly impacting lives for the better today, and well into the future as these emerging leaders prepare to set off on their careers. I love looking into the eyes of each person and feeling their passion and sense of purpose. There is a lot of goodness being generated.”
Showcase judge Robert Wuflestad of Highland Private Wealth Management added that he is “consistently impressed with the quality of SPU students.”
Financial backers of the Social Venture Plan Competition included founding sponsors The Kathleen and Scott Cummins Foundation and The Herbert B. Jones Foundation. In addition, SPU appreciates the sponsorship of local social enterprises Pioneer Human Services, Northwest Center, and Miir. The competition is managed by the Center for Applied Learning in the School of Business and Economics.