Social Innovation Challenge Finalists Deliver Impact

The Social Innovation Challenge's seventh annual awards ceremony on May 5 provided a tangible look at the impact that college students from the University of San Diego, neighboring San Diego college institutions and bi-national universities can deliver.

2017 Social Innovation Challenge

Seventeen finalists — including nine from USD — vied for a piece of the $41,000 total pool of seed funding available. Funding, however, isn't the most important thing. The ideas presented demonstrated how students can utilize entrepreneurship and innovation through a diverse and inclusive perspective in order to make the world a better place.

From sustainability to humanitarian assistance for those who've been deported from the U.S., education programs to help Native American students, women, and African Americans, personal storytelling, technological advances that aid a blind person's mobility or help a 21st century student better connect or multiple projects to assist mothers with their children, SIC finalists addressed many issues.

The SIC's first event under new Center for Peace and Commerce Director Amit Kakkad, a School of Business assistant professor of operations management, and assistant director Rachel Christensen, rewarded several projects with funding or in-kind services.

USD Student Wins $8,000 With Trash Tracker

The biggest winner, in terms of prize money awarded, was Trash Tracker, a current senior design project for USD engineering student Jordan Schultz. Trash Tracker, an innovation that can increase residential recycling rates using cloud database and behavioral analysis, won $8,000.

Schultz became the first USD student entrepreneur to earn funding in both of USD's spring entrepreneur competitions in the same year with the same idea. On May 4, he received $8,000 from angel investors in the Venture Vetting (V2) Pitch Competition. He said the total amount provides funding to hire a person to help with software needs and patent and manufacturing costs.

In the SIC, Trash Tracker received $4,000 from the Wireless Impact Award pool, which was sponsored by Qualcomm Ventures and Qualcomm Wireless Reach. He earned $3,000 from the Torero Impact Award pool, which was sponsored by the Cappetta Family Foundation and Michael Mugel, and also gained a $1,000 from the Global Impact Award pool, which was sponsored by Price Family Foundation and McNamara Purcell Foundation.

Two more top USD winners were Fundacion Gaia and My Story, both of whom earned $5,000.

Fundacion Gaia earned $3,000 from the Torero Impact Award and $1,000 each from the Global Impact Award and the Mexico Impact Award, the latter of which was sponsored by Wendy Gillespie.

Fundacion Gaia, whose pitch was done by Antonio Irastorza, a senior USD international business major, is a foundation determined to curb the vicious cycle of homelessness and substance abuse faced by people who are deported from the U.S. to Tijuana. Irastorza said his involvement with the foundation started when he was a USD freshman has been collaborating with USD ever since. Entering the SIC was an opportunity to provide valuable resources and do what they can to help deported migrants through workshops, job skills training and more.

My Story, pitched by USD senior Charlotte Vitak, earned the full $5,000 prize awarded in the USD Women Innovators Award pool, sponsored by Annie Navarra and Jerome's Furniture.

Vitak, when she was a sophomore, wanted to find a way to bring the campus community closer together. Through her involvement in the USD Changemaker Hub student committee the idea of My Story was born. It’s an outlet for students, faculty and staff to share their personal stories and experiences. Vitak, who is graduating this month, hopes to take My Story to other college campuses and beyond. She’s said there is a plan in the works to have a My Story event during USD's new student orientation this fall.

Other USD student ideas receiving SIC funding were SonicSense by IRSONIC, which got $2,000 from the Torero Impact Award and CARE Technologies, also a $2,000 Torero Impact Award winner.

Non-USD Social Innovation Challenge Winners

The top non-USD innovation ideas to receive funding were Recyclinator, devised by San Diego State students, which earned $7,000 (Local Impact Award, $5,000, and $2,000 Global Impact Award); San Diego STEAM, pitched by Point Loma Nazarene University student Jasmine Sadler, won $5,000 (Local Impact Award); Two ideas pitched by Tecnologico de Monterrey (Mexico) students, TIPS and TIPI, earned $3,000 apiece. TIPS earned $2,000 from the Mexico Impact Award and won the text-driven $1,000 Live Audience Award — sponsored by Anthony Skvarka, Linda Klosterman and Liz Nutting — while TIPI claimed $2,000 from the Mexico Impact Award and $1,000 from the Wireless Impact Award. Amniotic Wrap, pitched by University of California at San Diego students, earned $1,000 from the Global Impact Award pool.

In-Kind Services Winners

Additionally, six companies donated in-kind services to multiple teams. Winners were Greyble (one year affiliate membership to CleanTech); CARE Technologies, Trash Tracker and Recyclinator (opportunity to present at Springboard Intake Panel via Connect); My Story and Amniotic Wrap (Three month gold membership through Hera Hub); Amniotic Wrap and Grayble (Unreasonable Institute Business Model Validation Lab experience via Impact Without Borders); Nature Unplugged, San Diego STEAM and Fundacion Gaia (Mission Labs and Consulting by Mission Edge); and SonicSense by IRSONIC and JDoe (Lead Innovation Bootcamp entry via Moves the Needle).

SIC Going Global

Near the end of the awards ceremony, Kakkad made a suspense-laden announcement that was eventually revealed to be that starting with the 2018 Social Innovation Challenge, the entry process will now be opened up to social entrepreneurs worldwide. It was a natural progress, Kakkad reasoned. The SIC, he said, has grown from a USD-only event to a regional event and then a bi-national event with 574 teams participating, $326,000 in prize money awarded.

Kakkad said SIC’s journey ahead will focus on deeper engagement with an idea’s content, meaning an emphasis on clearly understanding an issue before developing a solution, ideas with a clear focus on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and having worldwide participation provides all college and university students the chance to participate in making a difference.

— Ryan T. Blystone

Photo slideshow photos courtesy of Rodney Nakamoto