As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to result in remote learning protocols, SPU held its fifteenth annual Social Venture Plan Competition (SVPC), the second ever conducted in a virtual environment. Student teams developed solutions to real-world problems, while pitching their ideas through documents, slide decks, videos, and Zoom video conferences. Although students conducted research and developed business plans from the comfort of their own homes, many of the top projects looked well beyond the boundaries of campus to the needs of individuals around the world. The Showcase event, the finale of the annual SVPC, occurred virtually on Wednesday, April 14, 2021.
The top project was Souk, chosen as the $5,000 Herbert B. Jones Grand Prize winner by the combined votes of 61 judges representing the business, non-profit, academic, and professional communities. The Student Community came in second, winning the $3,000 runner-up award. Over the course of the day, more than 700 people logged on to the public Showcase site and voted for their favorite project, giving the Donald B. Summers People’s Choice award of $1,000 to The Shore.
Souk (the Arabic word for market), wants to open the global market for all. The project seeks the economic empowerment of merchants and citizens in developing countries by increasing employment opportunities and revenue using an e-commerce platform that allows the sale of handcrafted, artisan goods on a global scale. Starting in Meknés, Morocco, Souk would hire indigenous agents to work with local artisans and promote their crafts using digital technology previously inaccessible to them. The team wishes to create jobs, increase incomes, and offset some of the lost revenues these artisans would normally see from the tourist trade. The Souk team included senior Olivia Heale, a global development studies, Middle East and North African studies, and Honors liberal arts major; junior global development studies major Kyra Strom; senior business administration major Nathaniel Canny; and Daniel Eduardo Oliver, a senior accounting major from the University of Washington.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many feeling isolated. In May 2020, The Student Community was created with the goal of easily and scalably helping institutions create engaging communities that help members access resources they need while building meaningful relationships and establishing community culture. The first use of the mobile app was on college campuses, but The Student Community now seeks to develop a version for corporate clients who are looking to onboard employees in a remote work environment. The Student Community consisted of senior statistics major Snehita Sana and senior computer science major Sarayu Namineni, both from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, and Nina Zanarelli, a junior service design major from Politecnico di Milano in Italy.
Four Honorable Mention prizes of $2,000 were also awarded:
11HR developed a device to detect traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the field. This low-cost solution would allow earlier diagnosis and treatment of TBI for military personnel, police officers, and other first responders exposed to blast overpressure situations (e.g. explosions). 11HR was developed by junior Psychology major Kyle Simon, junior Business Administration major Hannah Nguyen, and junior Sociology major Chaz Groves.
Bevida would provide access to housing and support services for people experiencing homelessness in King County, while training them to be baristas in a specialty coffee cart business. Bevida was the work of senior global development studies majors Demi Reeves, Micah Chen, and Hunter Beirne, along with senior business administration major Mohammed Nematollahi, junior global development major Sebrin Edries, and junior business administration major Rycki Cruz.
Domestic violence affects two out of three women in Vietnam. Break Free will offer financial literacy programs and career coaching to Vietnamese women in an effort to empower them and end the cycle of harm. Break Free was comprised of Bonnie Tran, a junior business administration major, and Janice Sam, a junior business economics major at Cal State-Fullerton.
Keluarga Eco Group proposes to collect recyclable plastics from the grounds of hotels in the tourist destination of Lombok, Indonesia. Using a local workforce, they would shred and sell plastics to local buyers for repurposing, cleaning the beautiful beaches and providing jobs at the same time. The Keluarga Eco Group plan was written and presented by senior business administration majors Naomi Akiyama, Jacob Irwin, and Harrison van Echten, along with junior global development studies major Keelan Long, and senior global development studies, social justice and cultural studies, and Honors liberal arts major Rebekah Huber.
In a tight race, The Shore won the People’s Choice award. The team proposes a coffee shop that would help incarcerated women. Using a loyalty card system, the company will donate the value of every tenth cup of coffee to the Freedom Education Project, which attempts to combat systemic problems in the prison system through education and uplift. The Shore was composed of junior business administration majors Kayla Nasralla and Audrey Lauer, junior sociology major Emily Kasue, and sophomore business administration major Justin Freeman.
The SVPC offered a special $1,000 prize this year to the project that best addressed a need related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Independent of the main voting, judges selected The Student Community for the COVID-19 Impact Prize.
This is the fifteenth year of SPU’s Social Venture Plan Competition. Twenty teams presented at the Showcase event, comprising approximately 70 students. In addition to 11 SPU projects, seven teams from Northwest Nazarene University (Nampa, ID), one team from the University of Washington (Seattle, WA), and one team from Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) competed. Including individual team members in the count, students from a record-breaking eight universities competed in this year’s virtual event. In addition to 60+ community judges, almost 800 people voted in the online 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 110 community volunteers gave time as readers, instructors, coaches, and judges.
Meredith Fishkin of Outline Ventures Group, a first-time judge, commented: “The teams had good ideas and I think a few really understood the impact they could make and the backing required to start up.”
Returning volunteer Bob Fretz, a retired diplomat and educator, said: “I thought I would hate it, but I liked the new format so much better. It was great to talk to your students in ‘person.’ A very enjoyable day.”
Dr. Christal Jenkins, a technologist, banking executive, and entrepreneur also serving for the first time as a judge this year, agreed, saying: “This virtual event was awesome! It was so great spending three+ hours hearing the heart of each of these students. It gives me so much excitement and hope in the generations of leaders that are actively engaged and on the rise.”
Financial sponsors of the SVPC include the Herbert B. Jones Foundation, the Scott and Kathleen Cummins Family Foundation, 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.