Center for Peace and Commerce

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About the USD Social Innovation Challenge


The University of San Diego Social Innovation Challenge (SIC) promotes, guides, and supports student-driven ideas to launch or contribute to social enterprises. Social enterprises can be for-profit, nonprofit, or blended ventures, working locally and internationally. The SIC is a bottom-up initiative in which the university’s Center for Peace and Commerce (CPC) acts as catalyst and mentor. We seek to harness students’ imagination for a better world and offer concrete tools and opportunities to help them turn their ideas into reality. With CPC support, students are responsible for developing or refining proposals for social enterprises that achieve positive results for the four Ps:People, Profit, Planet, and Peace.


The USD Social Innovation Challenge started in 2011 as a student initiative of the university’s Center for Peace and Commerce. Students from USD’s Graduate School of Business Administration and the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies submitted 16 projects in the first year. The competition was opened up to the entire USD campus in 2012 and 52 submissions from across all programs were entered. In 2013 the SIC grew to 114 projects and awarded over $42,500 of seed capital to five different student innovations.

2013 SIC Verizon Green Award goes to Teresa Smith

The SIC Today

The 2014 the Social Innovation Challenge awarded $50,000 to USD students, and expanded to include an external "San Diego Track" open to students from Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego City College, San Diego State University, and the University of California, San Diego. The Moxie Prizes of $17,500 and Outerwall prize of $5,000 were awarded to students in the San Diego Track. The SIC has awarded $158,000 in cash prizes to students since its inception in 2011.

Goals of the SIC

  • To invest in students with the potential to make positive, sustainable social impact
  • To promote problem-solving through the development of sustainable ventures
  • To support enterprise development for the quadruple bottom-line (people, planet, profit, and peace)

Selection Criteria

We’re looking for social innovations. What’s a social innovation? It’s an idea that significantly improves results or helps to solve existing social or environmental problems. We’re looking for innovations that can grow to create local or global impacts, and passion and abilities to drive such growth are as important as the innovation idea. USD Judges are Dell Social Innovation Challenge Certified and will evaluate projects using the following criteria:

Round 1: Clarity of the project proposal in answering the 5 questions (This includes description of the innovation and significance of social/environmental impact potential as well as financial viability). 

Round 2: Demonstration of a high probability of success (i.e. effectiveness of the social/environmental impact and financial viability/sustainability).

Round 3: In addition to the criteria from Round 2, also consider the likelihood of implementation along the following areas:

  • Social impact
  • Financial viability/sustainability
  • Creativity/novelty/originality of idea
  • Potential efficacy/effectiveness of business


Students will also be given the opportunity to work with a mentor. See the mentorship page for more information.