2024 Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge

2024 Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge

Paradigm Robotics pitching at the 2024 Global FinalsParadigm Robotics pitching at the 2024 Global Finals

From May 3-5, the University of San Diego (USD) and the Kroc School of Peace Studies served as a nexus for global social innovation and entrepreneurship during the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge. 

This event, a pillar event in USD's commitment to fostering innovation and purpose-driven solutions, attracted students from over 12 countries and 40 universities worldwide pitching their ventures in alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Central to the challenge was a resounding call for investment in social innovators. Andrew Biros, EdD, Founding Director of Spark @ USD and the event's host, emphasized the pivotal role of supporting these visionaries in confronting our most daunting challenges. "We will not have the social and environmental innovations our society desperately needs unless we invest in social innovators," Biros declared, setting the stage for a competition focused on driving impactful change.

The pinnacle of the weekend-long event was the Global Finals, where the top 8 teams, chosen after a weekend of intense pitching to judges, took to the stage to present their ventures to the audience filling the Kroc School’s Peace and Justice Theatre. Each team delivered a succinct 2.5-minute pitch, showcasing their innovative solutions and their potential for social impact. USD President Harris, in attendance, shared his admiration, stating, "I want you to leave this evening and tell your friends, this [Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge] is what's right about higher education."

Ron Fowler, the event’s title sponsor, took the stage to congratulate all the teams on their hard work and dedication to make it this far. “For those of us that have been doing this awhile, we know the hundreds of hours you spend doing this, and it’s appreciated. The impact on society is great. We thank you and applaud you for what you’ve done to make this a great event,” Fowler said. 

Each of the top 8 teams was awarded at least $2,500 for their ventures, with the top 3 teams receiving substantial prizes of $10,000, $15,000, and the grand prize of $25,000. An additional 10 teams took home $1,000 Ideas Grants, generously supported by Wendy Gillespie and the Capdevilla Gillespie Foundation. These awards not only provided vital seed funding but also symbolized recognition of the teams' dedication to building peace through social innovation.

The winning team, Paradigm Robotics from the University of Texas at Austin, captivated both the audience and judges with their groundbreaking fire search and rescue robot, FireBot. Designed to mitigate the risks faced by firefighters in structural fires, this innovative solution earned Paradigm Robotics the grand prize of $25,000 in seed venture funding. Read more about the winning team here

Following the intense pitch competition, students and audience members gathered in the Kroc School’s Garden of the Sky to celebrate and network. Here, amidst the beauty of the USD campus, connections were forged, ideas exchanged, and aspirations shared. It was a testament to the power of community and collaboration in driving meaningful change.

As the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge continues to evolve and inspire, it serves as a reminder of the transformative potential of higher education. By nurturing and empowering the next generation of changemakers, institutions like USD are not only shaping future leaders but also catalyzing solutions for a more sustainable and equitable world. The Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge stands as a reminder of the importance of investing in those who dare to innovate for social good. As we look ahead, let us continue to support and empower the next generation of Changemakers, for they hold the key to building a more sustainable and equitable world.

— USD News Center