Real-World Problems, Virtual Competition
Despite the challenges of the COVID19 pandemic, the Fourteenth Annual Social Venture Plan Competition (SVPC) went on as planned, in a virtual environment. Student teams developed solutions to real world problems, while pitching their ideas through documents, slide decks, videos, and live video conferences. The top projects this year focused on issues related to extreme climates and environments, a fitting metaphor for the current situation.
The Showcase event, the finale of the annual SVPC, occurred virtually on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.
The top project was Safa Himal, chosen as the $5000 Herbert B. Jones Grand Prize winner by the combined votes of 67 judges representing the business, non-profit, academic and professional communities. Bountifull came in second, winning the $3000 runner-up award. Over the course of the day, a record-breaking 1300 people logged on to the public Showcase site and voted for their favorite project, giving the Donald B. Summers People’s Choice award of $1000 to Tutorly.
Safa Himal translates as “clean mountain” in Nepalese and the focus of the winning business idea would do just that. Climbers at high altitudes do not have good solutions for the removal of human waste, as the thin air and cold temperatures defy quick decomposition. This is nowhere more evident than on the world’s tallest mountain, Everest, where more than 25,000 pounds of feces have accumulated to contaminate drinking water, and sully the landscape. Safa Himal would sell and service a portable, dehydrating toilet to adventure tour operators and other climbers on Everest, reducing human waste in size and weight by up to 75%. The portable, dehydrated feces can then be carried down the mountain to a biogas decomposition plant and converted into methane fuel. The Safa Himal team included junior Lhakpa Sherpa, a Business Administration and Global Development Studies double major, Amy Frederick, a junior Global Development Studies major, and Jenna Haines and Ryan Kennedy, both juniors double majoring in Economics and Global Development Studies.
In rural Alaska, many communities suffer from food insecurity. A short growing season and high costs for importing fresh fruits and vegetables lead to few options for communities such as the remote town of Bethel. Bountifull proposed shipping greenhouses to Bethel, Alaska to start a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business. The team would grow fruits and vegetables year-round using hydroponics, and sell the food on a subscription model, increasing nutritional benefits in the community and lowering costs. Bountifull was comprised of senior Global Development Studies major Isabel Chapman, senior Electrical and Mechanical Engineering major Elli Fisher, junior Global Development Studies major Emily Geringer, junior Business Administration major Emma Hamann, senior Business Administration major Josh Rogers, and junior Eirene Smith, a double major in Global Development Studies and Social Justice and Cultural Studies.
ReSource Market would be a zero waste grocery store and cafe. By eliminating single-use plastics, the team plans to give consumers the power to reduce their environmental impact. ReSource Market was the work of senior Mechanical Engineering major Samantha Search, senior Global Development Studies major Abigail Tierney, and senior Business Administration and Global Development Studies double major, Nicole Riggins.
Two-wheelers (mopeds) in India account for 32% of transportation air pollution, prompting the Indian government to tighten emission standards. Team Thera developed an inexpensive kit to retrofit mopeds, ensuring that lower income families won’t be left out as the country moves to electric vehicles. The Thera group was comprised of senior Mechanical Engineering major Zach Brant, Global Development Studies major Renee Knepper, junior Global Development Studies majors Ethan Sager and Isabel Walker, senior Electrical Engineering major Matthew Benzar, and junior Economics and Political Science double-major Brenda Valencia Flores.
Volare would provide culturally relevant career advising to support international students as they pursue their career dreams. Understanding the obstacles that international students face in the US as they attempt to complete their optional professional training (OPT), find internships, and other professional experience, Volare would offer customized and scalable career services. The Volare plan was written and presented by junior Global Development Studies major Rachel Lilly, junior Computer Science major Junwon Song, and junior Business Administration major Bonnie Tran.
Tutorly won the People’s Choice award by a large margin. The team has created a peer-to-peer tutoring app for college students, allowing learning to happen at the push of a button. By opening up access to tutoring, the project hopes to empower students, close gaps of inequity in higher education, and improve retention and graduation rates. Tutorly was composed of Business Administration major Kaitlynn Burnett, Computer Science major Soren Rood, Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) major Steven Kotansky, and Computer Science major Justin Shaw from the University of Washington. All four are first-year students.
This is the fourteenth year of SPU’s Social Venture Plan Competition. Sixteen teams presented at the Showcase event, comprising approximately 65 students. In addition to SPU projects, three teams from Northwest Nazarene University (Nampa, ID) competed. In addition to the nearly 70 community judges, a record-breaking 1300 people voted in the on-line 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 plan writing, scoring of teams’ written business plans, and coaching sessions with knowledgeable businesspeople, non-profit executives and others. In all, more than 150 community volunteers gave time as readers, instructors, coaches, and judges.
Bill Edgar, an IT executive and business consultant noted what a bright spot the competition was during dark times:
“It’s very uplifting to hear so many young folks with vision and thoughtful ideas. Thanks for letting me be part of the day.”
Returning volunteer Frances Walker, a local health, social justice, and development professional, agreed.
“It was a wonderful experience and I was just blown away by the professionalism of the teams –
both in their understanding of the social issues and how to create impactful and financially-sustainable projects.”
Tammy Miller, a Senior Vice President at Wells Fargo and long-time SVPC volunteer commented on the virtual format, saying, “I have to say that I was impressed with many of the video messages and presentations, especially when you recognize that the videos were required late in the game due to the new format. Everyone should be congratulated for their ability to respond so well to the challenges and uncharted territory.”
Financial sponsors of the SVPC include the Herbert B. Jones Foundation, the Scott and Kathleen Cummins Family Foundation, Fischer Companies, Pioneer Human Services, Bellmont Cabinets, and Northwest Center. The competition is organized by the Center for Applied Learning (CAL) in the School of Business, Government, and Economics (SBGE) at SPU.