University of San Diego Announces Social Innovation Challenge Winners

A proposal for an off-grid water purification system to sustain small communities with drinking water during disasters and emergencies was the big winner in the University of San Diego’s fifth annual Social Innovation Challenge.

The H2gO team from the University of San Diego was awarded $17,000 in seed money to support its proposal in the competition for innovative ventures to address social and environmental challenges. M. Parker Cohn, a mechanical engineering student, is the team leader. Godfreds Foundation, founded by University of San Diego international business student Fredrick Frimpong, was another big winner, taking home $14,000. The award money will support the development of a low-cost private school with an innovative experiential learning model in Frimpong’s native Ghana. Other USD winners included CAPE: Community Allies for Psychological Empowerment, a team of Mental Health Counseling students dedicated to providing a comprehensive range of evidence-based mental health services to low income and under-served populations in San Diego. The Simple Seat Better lives team took home $3,000 to support their low-cost and portable toilet seat designed for Ugandan landmine victims to alleviate the difficulties of using a latrine with a disability. And Foxbat Dynamics, a team comprising USD Engineering students, received $1,000 to develop 21st century robotic technologies to improve emergency services and public safety in a socially responsible manner.

In a second track for students in other local universities, three teams were each awarded $10,000. Those were Bystanders to Upstanders, a University of California, San Diego, team launching an app to connect socially conscious organization and volunteers; EWH HIV Monitoring, a UCSD team developing a novel, cost-effective device for HIV testing in low-resource settings and the Free Artists Network, a San Diego State University team developing an art education web platform and e-learning network to bridge the gap between arts-based education and contemporary art careers for creative students. Another team from San Diego State University, the East African Fellowship Program by CURE Africa, received $5,000. They are creating a community-based scholars program designed to curb the challenges facing East Africans in San Diego by bolstering college preparatory support among middle school youth.

The University of San Diego’s Center for Peace and Commerce hosted the competition. Winners were announced at a ceremony on Friday afternoon. The competition awarded a total of $75,000 in seed money with $40,000 for University of San Diego team and $35,000 for teams from other San Diego universities. A total of nine teams were awarded funds.

”The quality of the social venture submissions this year was outstanding,” said Stephen Conroy, economics professor and faculty director of the Center for Peace and Commerce. “The 15 student projects that advanced to the final round were very strong in terms of their social impact, financial sustainability and creativity. Our panel of highly-qualified judges had to make some very difficult decisions!”

Finalists pitched their impact ideas to judges from prominent local and national companies and nonprofit institutions including Qualcomm Ventures, Kimberly Clark and Project Concern International.

Donors for the University of San Diego track awards included the Verizon Foundation, Youtily, John and Nancy Jo Cappetta, the Price Family Foundation, the Purcell McNamara Foundation and Pacific Western Bank.

The Moxie Foundation ( funded the external track for students applying to the Social Innovation Challenge from other San Diego universities.

To learn more about the competition and the individual teams, go to


About the University of San Diego

The University of San Diego sets the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university where innovative Changemakers confront humanity’s urgent challenges. With more than 9,000 students from 69 countries and 50 states, USD is the youngest independent institution on the U.S. News & World Report list of top 100 universities in the United States. The university's eight academic divisions include the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, the School of Law, the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science, the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, and the Division of Professional and Continuing Education. USD's Envisioning 2024 strategic plan capitalizes on the university’s recent progress and aligns new strategic goals with current strengths to help shape a vision for the future as the university looks ahead to its 75th anniversary in the year 2024.