SIC Winners Show Why Entrepreneurship Thrives

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From Inside USD -- When Stephen Conroy welcomed the audience for the May 2 Social Innovation Challenge (SIC)awards ceremony, the Center for Peace and Commerce director and USD economics professor used the opportunity to point out why social entrepreneurship matters and why it thrives:

  • “At their core, social entrepreneurs are revolutionaries;”
  • “Where most people see problems, they see solutions to problems;”
  • “They realize that major social impact does not necessarily require massive, major and revolutionary innovation. Sometimes, it is incremental and adaptive.”

His words set a tone for the fourth annual celebration of social projects with difference-making intentions worldwide. There were 16 SIC finalists vying for a record $73,500 in seed money and, for the first time, funds were allocated for both USD student ideas ($50,000) and a $22,500 External San Diego track for San Diego State, UC San Diego, Point Loma Nazarene and San Diego City College students.

“This is a wonderful surprise … it’s incredible,” said USD engineering students Miluska Garcia and Clay Mosolino after learning their group project, Rice Pollution Solution, was awarded an SIC record $20,000 award. Garcia and Mosolino, along with Chase McQuarrie and Abdalla Almulla, examined and developed a solution for China’s rice contamination problem while in a Sustainability in Engineering electives class taught by Industrial and Systems Assistant Professor Truc Ngo.

“(In 2013) the Ministry of Environmental Protection found that 10 percent of China’s domestically grown rice was contaminated with heavy metals found in polluted soil, water, and air,” the group’s project video stated. “Rice samples in areas like the Guangdong Province of China were found to contain excess levels of cadmium, lead, and arsenic. The toxic heavy metals come from factories that ring southern China’s fertile farms. The metals enter runoff from the factories, and flow into water used for irrigation. Cadmium runoff is found to be the biggest culprit in rice contamination. Cadmium poisoning is a growing issue in China.”

The students’ solution involves changing the infrastructure of rice farms to take advantage of phytoremediation techniques.

Ngo, who encouraged her entire class to create ideas for SIC submission, was pleased with Rice Pollution Solution’s outcome. It validated interest in having more students develop humanitarian-oriented engineering projects. An additional plus is that the group is comprised of students from all three Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering disciplines — mechanical (Mosolino, McQuarrie), electrical (Garcia) and industrial and systems engineering (Almulla).

Another top USD track winner was Green Room ($15,000), a project led by SOLES master’s student and current middle school teacher Eric Cross (pictured, right). Green Room provides an out-of-the-box learning environment for underprivileged students, providing them with advanced resources to develop green technology projects in their neighborhood and to encourage them to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

Three other USD track projects, Memoria, G.R.O.W.I.N.G. and Pacific Clean Tech each received $5,000. Memoria, entered by Laura Yvonne Mendez Calderon and Jorge Lison, is a secure web application that collects data on victims of violence and human abuses in Mexico to help victims document crime and hold authorities accountable. G.R.O.W.I.N.G., proposed by SOLES’ Nonprofit Leadership and Management student Andrew Rae, is a job placement program offering culturally appropriate opportunities to refugee farmers and entrepreneurs from Burma who now lives in San Diego. Pacific Clean Tech is a military veteran owned and operated sustainable solutions company seeking to create jobs for veterans and assist businesses in becoming more environmentally sustainable. A business alum and soon-to-be business alum, James Pendarvis and Benjamin Patterson, respectively, are the leads on this project.

Top winners in the external San Diego track, which had $17,500 in funding from UCSD’s Moxie Center and $5,000 from Outerwall/ecoATM, were W.E. Do Good ($10,000 from Moxie) and VENA ($5,000 Moxie, $5,000 from Outerwall/ecoATM and a $1,000 Social Global Mobile Live Audience Choice Award that was a text vote contest open to all 16 finalists).

Both W.E. Do Good and VENA deliver important resources internationally. W.E. Do Good, led by Robert Schneider (pictured, left) offers a low-cost, portable and durable mechanical thresher to improve the difficult and time-consuming harvesting of teff for Ethiopian farmers. VENA is a low-cost, scalable, zero-energy water harvester for developing regions lacking access to potable water.

Another project, Art Without a Roof, received $2,500 from Moxie. The idea provides socially conscious people with apparel infused with creative designs from artists impacted by homelessness.

Lastly, eight SIC finalists received a Toq Smartwatch from Qualcomm Ventures.

Given Conroy’s passion for entrepreneurship, it’s clearly evident that it is a great way for college students to express themselves. The SIC is actually one of three different USD entrepreneurship contests — Venture Vetting (V2) and Changemaker Challenge are the others — and each contributes to this medium.

Specifically speaking about the SIC, funding has increased each year along with community and business support. The SIC has a diverse pool of judges and mentors including USD alumni, former SIC winners, business leaders and advisory board members. There’s continuing interest by USD faculty to encourage students to enter the competition. All SIC finalists receive an crowdfunding account.

And even though Rise Above, FundPal, Back to Work, Solar Umbrella, Product Bio, One Village Philippines, Fiji Kindergarten and Pullee Mobile Donations did not receive monetary funding, an important takeaway is the educational experience involved.

“I’m very excited,” said Nadia Auch, associate director for the Center for Peace and Commerce, when asked about the always evolving SIC and how she and a small, dedicated staff, keep raising the bar. Next year will be the fifth year. “I really feel the growth of it now.”

— Ryan T. Blystone