Inside USD

USD Competitions Foster Student Innovators

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Students come to USD to get a solid, liberal arts education. Quality faculty, small class size, research, study abroad and leadership experiences and, of course, the weather and nearby beaches, are some of the other reasons why students apply.

But something else has emerged at USD: Students are seizing opportunities to be part of the next generation of problem solvers, critical thinkers and socially conscious leaders. They’re determined to make a difference. They want to not only improve themselves, but also the lives of others and the world, too.

This month, three USD competitions that focus on ideas related to sustainability, entrepreneurship and a business/social responsibility hybrid, respectively, will reward students for ideas that showcase their passion for innovation and more.

The $2,000 Idea: USD’s One Challenge

This contest, whose deadline to enter is Monday, April 8, asks students and the entire campus community to submit a two-minute video addressing an idea or solution based on the topic of environment and wasteful production and consumption. Winners get $2,000 for their idea. A joint effort between USD’s Office of Sustainability and the USD Changemaker Hub, the USD One Challenge is an initiative that unites the campus community to use their imagination to address this major social challenge. All ideas are welcome. They’re serious, but yet, can be fun, creative ways to promote a message of awareness with staying power. Following Monday’s deadline, the top finalists will be revealed April 15 and the winners will be announced April 23 as determined by a social media vote.

“It’s an easy contest to enter,” said Juan Carlos Rivas, assistant director of the USD Changemaker Hub. “For those who are still on the fence but want to explore what being a Changemaker is all about, this is a good entry point. It’s a chance to think creatively out of the box, inspire others and have an idea that can challenge the community to grow in new ways.”

Submit your video for USD One Challenge.

The $25,000 Venture Vetting (V2) Competition

The second year of V2, an entrepreneurial concept introduced by USD Business Professor Mike Lawless, has many notable improvements from its 2012 debut: A newly designed website,; More V2 entries, which were due on March 14, up to 30 from 18; Total prize money is $25,000, up from $15,000; and new this year is a chance for businesses not selected among the four finalists to still promote themselves through online voting, a poster presentation and in-person voting via a smartphone app during the April 18 V2 Finals. The top vote-getter will be recognized with a “Crowd Prize” award. Meanwhile, the four finalists who will pitch their companies to angel investors at the V2 Finals, which starts at 6 p.m. in the IPJ Theatre, are: On My Block (online real estate rental transactions), EcoClinics (medical device company), Supplement Box (international sports dietary supply chain business) and A2Med (medical device information company). The angel investor panel consists of Navid Alipour of La Costa Investment Group; Jason Friend of Peoples Bank; Nixon Watches’ Andy Laats; and Anita Mahaffey of Cool-Jams. Alipour, Friend and Mahaffey are USD alumni. Another alum, Las Vegas entrepreneur Tom Breitling, is the keynote speaker. Breitling, co-founder and chairman of Ultimate Gaming, an emerging online business, “will offer lessons learned from starting his businesses,” Lawless said.

Overall, Lawless said he’s pleased with the progress made by V2. He’s happy about the mix of companies represented in the finals — there are USD students inside and outside of USD’s business school involved — and the aspect of non-finalists having additional exposure and feedback opportunities makes V2 more inclusive.

The $40,000 Social Innovation Challenge

The third annual Social Innovation Challenge (SIC), thanks largely to the tireless work of USD Center for Peace and Commerce (CPC) Assistant Director Nadia Auch, is showing significant growth in popularity. The SIC received 114 entries this year from students representing the whole campus, up from 52 entries last year and 16 in 2011. The SIC seeks ideas that serve a dual role: a business model and a socially responsible purpose. Of those 114 entries this year, a preliminary judging round narrowed the field to 27. On Monday, April 8, those 27 will submit a written plan and short video. Judges will pare that down to 10-15 for April 30’s final pitch event, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in IPJ Rooms A and B. Of the $40,000 in prize money available this year, $10,000 is earmarked as a Verizon Green Award for environmental-related projects. The SIC awards ceremony is May 3 in the IPJ Theatre.

“It’s gained a lot of momentum,” said Auch of the SIC. She credits professors who’ve implemented SIC-like projects into their graduate and undergraduate courses, but Auch presented the SIC concept in 40 classrooms to increase awareness. She’s added value for students by arranging mentorship opportunities with community business leaders and CPC hosts informative and inspiring Idea Labs to aid students throughout the process. This year, students who turned in their SIC entries early got entered into the $350,000 Dell Innovation Challenge. The SIC winners will be partnered with Evo-Nexus and Connect Springboard for additional exposure and Auch is helping past winners with crowd-funding opportunities.

“I believe the Social Innovation Challenge is a very important tool for our students,” Auch said. “This is the vehicle to get it done. They learn about the process, gain confidence, get exposure and access to mentors, get feedback from judges and network with our executive board. I really believe in it.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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