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Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge: BIOMILQ's Transformational Idea Tops a Strong Field

Sunday, June 14, 2020TOPICS: AlumniChangemakerGlobal ImpactStudent Success

BIOMILQ, a Duke University student-led company seeks to develop “cultured breast milk outside of a woman's body ... a product that has the nutrition of breastmilk but the practicality of formula."

On Saturday night, BIOMILQ's idea secured $24,000 in seed funding, the top amount from a total prize pool of $60,000 in the virtual 2020 Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge event.

BIOMILQ, led by co-founders Leila Strickland, PhD, and Michelle Egger, MBA, earned the top Changemaker Award prize of $22,000 and added $2,000 as the runner-up for a Women's Innovators Award. The latter was one of several smaller seed funding prizes awarded amongst 16 finalists.

Egger, who presented BIOMILQ’s video pitch, was live online from North Carolina when her company was announced as the grand prize winner by USD's Center of Peace and Commerce Director Silvia Mah. After thanking SIC organizers and Ron Fowler, who along with his wife Alexis, is the title sponsor, Egger spoke about keeping the momentum going for an idea aiming to launch by 2025.

“We've put moms and babies at the center of everything that we do for creating custom cultured breast milk,” said a jubilant Egger. “We plan to use this to help scale our team with more scientists and my CSO (chief security officer). We’re putting up job postings on Tuesday.”

202FGSIC Logos-Images

Click on the first photo above to see a slideshow from the 2020 Fowler GSIC

BIOMILQ was the clear winner among 40-plus entries from 24 countries who presented ideas tied to one or more of the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

"We think BIOMILQ can make incremental changes in the first 1,000 days of the life of a child," Egger said in her 10-minute finals pitch video. "If we can't set a fundamental nutrition story right from the beginning, we don't know why we should be working on anything else."

There was a tie for second place between Brilliant Biome and Thermoplastiks.

Brilliant Biome, seeking to help in the fight against opioid abuse, was created by University of California, San Diego's Sierra Simpson, Gregory Peters and Carrie Herbert. Brilliant Biome earned $10,500, splitting the $15,000 second-place prize evenly with Thermoplastiks, and earning a $3,000 Wireless Impact Reach Award.

Thermoplastiks, a Madrid, Spain-based team from Universidad Francisco de Vitoria, consisted of Guillermo Chumaceiro, Blanca Gonzalez, Carlota Monedero and Maria Ponce. This team tackles the environmental issue of microplastics. Thermoplastiks earned $9,500 -- $7,500 for the tie and $2,000 as the Community Choice Award winner after viewers saw all finalists’ 90-second pitch videos.

USD CPC Director’s Assessment of Top Teams

Mah, hired in 2020 as CPC's director, was pleased with the innovative field of entries she and her staff oversaw.

“You have to be very clear about the value proposition. Even in the social impact space you really need to say ‘Ok, this is my product or solution and this is the clear way I’m going to have an impact and value to the customer.' And, especially during this competition, it's really about the passion that you have.”

Mah was thoroughly impressed by the top three teams.

“The winner, BIOMILQ, is creating human breast milk out of cells. Wow. That’s transformational. And then (Egger) articulated the way she was going to be focused on getting that to market.”

“With the two runner-ups, it was the same thing,” she continued. “Thermoplastiks has a passion about plastics in the ocean. Brilliant Biome understands your body has a huge biome so how do you translate that to make sure we have better healthcare. Both were really transformative ideas that had a clear, concise focus and a clear, concise value proposition for their customers and the impact they will have on this world.”

Adjustment to 2020’s Challenges

The Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, which began in 2011 and has been a fully global challenge since 2018, upgraded in a year unlike any other in the challenge’s existence. First, there was a pivot to a virtual concept in mid-March, right after teams submitted their ideas.

When the time came for teams this past week to compete for a top-12 spot in Saturday’s finals, judge scores resulted in a few ties. Mah, CPC coordinator Juliet Zimmer decided to expand to 16 finalists. Ten were from United States universities and six were international.

“Twelve of the sixteen finalists were also women innovators,” Mah said. “Some were co-founders, some were on their own. Imagine the impact they can have on the world. We have Global Women Leaders who want to spend more time mentoring so we gave out four Women Innovators honorable mentions.”

Other inviting aspects of the FGSIC show came from Kroc School Dean Patricia Marquez's passionate introduction, video welcomes from USD President James T. Harris and St. Thomas University President Julie Sullivan and catching up with past FGSIC participants to see their progress and changemaker spirit. One surprise treat was a beautiful, live singing performance of the song, “One Day,” by San Diego’s Cedrice, who recently appeared on NBC-TV's The Voice.

San Diego, St. Thomas Finalists Represent

Brilliant Biome's UCSD representation among the top three teams was the highest showing among five San Diego-area finalists.

“Having five finalists from San Diego shows you the technology prowess and impact that this city has and the mindset it has in this impact space,” Mah said.

The University of San Diego, whose Center for Peace and Commerce has hosted this competition since its inception, got both of its teams through -- Sunlight U and Xatalyze.

Sunlight U, a for-profit online software support for those who are suffering and can learn about the science of trauma, was created by 2020 Master of Arts in Social Innovation alumna Brittany Catton Kirk. She earned $4,000 in seed funding, winning the top Women Innovators Award of $3,000 and a $1,000 Most Resilient Award. Xatalyze, an energy storage and renewable energy project through the use of capacitors and a patented converter, consisted of integrated engineering major Jarvis Lu, Computer Science major Rylee Bers and Biology major Kyla Knauf. The trio earned $1,000 for a best new product award.

Masks for Healthcare: Ethos Masks, a project led by UCSD's Amir Hassan, Nick DiGirolamo and Dr. Mark Schultzel, won one of two $1,000 Covid-19 Innovation awards.

Till, a mobile app for a discount meal platform where restaurants sell excess food instead of throwing it away, was a finalist from San Diego State. Till, however, along with two other finalists — University of Minnesota's Vibrance Biomedical and CETYS Tijuana, Mexico's What About Sex? — were the only finalists to finish without seed funding.

Brailleazy, representing Minnesota's St. Thomas University, sparkled with its idea to develop a smartphone case to teach Braille for the blind. Brailleazy earned $3,000 — a $2,000 Wireless Impact Reach Award runner-up and a $1,000 Most Socially Innovative Award. It was significant for St. Thomas, which made its FGSIC debut in 2020. Ron Fowler is a 1966 St. Thomas alumnus and a former USD Board of Trustees Chairman. The 2021 FGSIC is a co-branded event between USD and St. Thomas. The latter will serve as the Global Finals host in 2021.

Other FGSIC finalists to receive seed funding were Creceras from University of Texas-Austin, $1,000 (Social Change Award); Dr. Nanoxa from India, $1,000 (COVID Innovation Award); Tuti Tech from Colombia, $1,000 (Community Choice Award Runner-Up); Hanguler from South Korea, $1,000 (Social Change Award); Arboretyx from Univ. of Texas-Austin, $1,000 (Moonshot Prize); and Leather Heart's Andres Solorzano from Venezuela, $1,000 (Instagram Ads Individual). One non-final day finalist, BCM from Madrid, Spain, won $1,000 (Instagram Ads Team).

— Ryan T. Blystone

FGSIC finalist logos and some slideshow images courtesy of USD's Center for Peace and Commerce

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