PLAN 82: Article
Inspired Ideas To Improve The World

SA+P Students Win Thousands in Grants for Business Start-Ups

Several students from SA+P were members of winning teams this year in a series of competitions awarding grants for start-up enterprises, mostly aimed at addressing challenges in the developing world. Below, a brief look at their winning ideas:

2012 Dell Social Innovation Competition
The Dell Social Innovation Competition recognizes young social innovators who have dedicated themselves to solving problems around the world using transformative and innovative tactics. This year, the competition received almost 1800 entries from more than 105 countries.

Diana Jue, a second year MCP candidate in international development, co-founded the Essmart team, which won the grand prize of $50K for their proposal to give rural retail shops in India access to ‘essential technologies’ such as bicycle-powered machines, solar cookers and water filters. Ninety percent of annual retail spending in India takes place in small, low-margin retail shops that don’t sell ‘essential technologies’ because they don’t know about them, where to find them or how to service them. Essmart aims to amplify demand through a paper and mobile catalogue and marketing campaigns, as well as to supply the technologies and facilitate manufacturers' warranties. Jue’s team also won $10K in the MIT IDEAS Global Competition, along with a seed grant from SA+P’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship. Team members included EECS student Aubrey Colter and Sloan student Taylor Matthews, working with Jackie Stenson, Prashanth Venkataramana, Robert Weiss, Ben Younkman, Jaya Movva, and Jen Zhu.

The MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition

Three of our students won seed funding in the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, the nation’s premier business-plan competition. Since 1990 it has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and startup services, facilitating the birth of over 85 companies, generating more than 2500 jobs and receiving $600M in venture capital funding.

SA+P students Matthew Blackshaw, Tony DeVincenzi and Dávid Lakatos, all masters candidates in media arts and sciences, won $15K in seed funds for their proposed alternative to Craigslist, Peddl – an app for buying and selling goods and services online that grew out of their project at the Media Lab. Like Craigslist, the application emphasizes local goods but with the added bonus of flagging listings close to a user’s location. The user-friendly interface allows a customer to indicate interest in a listing, contact a buyer, ask for a lower price or post a listing. Peddl builds a marketplace supported by proximal transactions, intelligent post matching and friendly user experience with a specific focus towards privacy and trust.

MIT’s IDEAS Global Challenge

Several of our students made impressive showings in MIT’s IDEAS Global Challenge, an annual competition that awards up to $10K per team for the best ideas to tackle barriers to well being. Coordinated by MIT’s Public Service Center, the contest asks students, faculty, staff, alumni and others to identify and address development challenges in communities around the world.

Everett Lawson, an MS candidate in Media Arts & Sciences, and Ramesh Raskar, head of the Camera Culture group at the Media Lab, were part of a team that won $7500 for their proposal to provide a fast, portable, inexpensive screening tool for diabetic retinopathy. Over two million people around the world have lost their sight from diabetic retinopathy – a figure that is expected to double by the year 2030 – and according to the World Health Organization, early treatment can reduce the chance of vision loss by more than 90%. The inSight team has developed a solution called ‘PRISM’, Incorporated into a comfortable pair of sunglasses, that can quickly photograph the retina to detect retinopathy without the need for a trained professional. Trading mobile computation for advanced optics, they have reduced the cost of a retinal imaging system (like a fundus camera) from $50K-$200K to just under $50. The team included Jason Boggess and Siddharth Khullar.

Arlene Ducao, Ida Green Fellow in the Media Lab's Information Ecology group, and Juhee Bae, a third-year double major in urban studies and planning and civil and environmental engineering, were a critical part of the OpenIR team, which won $7500 for their proposal to develop a web application to help save lives when disaster strikes by making geo-located infrared data easily accessible. When disaster strikes, the most important element to saving lives is information such as water depths, spread of oil, fault lines, burn scars and elevation; much of this information is publicly available as infrared satellite data but with today’s technology the data is difficult to obtain and even more difficult to interpret. OPEN INFRARED, or OpenIR, will open the world of satellite data to crisis responders, citizen journalists, indigenous groups and more for use in rescuing flood victims, detecting volcanic damage, finding the extent of wildfires and determining where landslides may next occur. The Open IR team also included Abdulaziz Alghunaim of EECS and Ilia Koen of the DuKode Studio in Brooklyn.

Leonie Badger, a senior pursuing a BS in architecture with a minor in management, was half of the Fula&Style team which won $7500 for their proposal to manufacture and sell business apparel in West Africa. While professional workers in Senegal have several options for work clothing, very few offer good value for money. Fula&Style will produce semi-assembled apparel kits of pre-designed and pre-cut clothing – similar to an IKEA DIY furniture kit – that will allow people to try on loosely stitched clothing then take the kit to a tailor who will finish sewing the garment. Within one day, the garment will be ready and will look just as it did in the catalogue, reducing the tailoring process to 1-2 days and 2-3 trips with excellent, consistent results. Fula&Style also won seed funding from SA+P’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship. The team included Aminata Kane and advisor Claude Grunitzky, both of the Sloan School.

SA+P’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship

The Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship awards annual grants to help student teams develop for-profit enterprises in low-income countries. With the funding for this summer's projects – which average $2K – the Center will have awarded over 100 such grants since the program's inception in 2009. Recipients have traveled to over 30 countries and have worked on a wide range of projects including renewable energy, health, water, housing, manufacturing, and a host of other solutions to development challenges.

MArch candidates Slobodan Radoman, Vasco Miguel De Portugal Dias Rato and Caleb Harper won a grant for their proposal to develop an eco-resort in Skadar Lake National Park, on the border between Montenegro and Albania. Construction of the resort and subsequent tourism revenue will improve the economic well-being of local villages that have been deserted due to urban migration while simultaneously providing an example of cultural exchange and collaboration in the divided Balkan region. In addition to stimulating the local economy, the project will use cutting-edge fabrication technology to produce low-cost lodging units that respect traditional architecture and use locally sourced construction materials. Team members included Gabriel Ochoa de Bedout, Srdja Markovic, and Rados Zuric.

Libby McDonald and Lucia Fernandez from SA+P’s Community Innovators Lab, and MCP candidates Anna Gross and Claire Markgraf, were part of a team that won a grant for their proposal to assist women waste pickers in India with the development and franchising of small biogas businesses. Institutions in Mumbai, such as schools and hotels, produce large amounts of organic waste that can be converted into a nutrient-rich fertilizer or high-quality methane for use as cooking fuel or for conversion to electricity. Using existing relationships and infrastructure, the installation, operation and maintenance of these new biogas systems, which originated in India, will be linked to the waste pickers’ cooperative to secure sustainable jobs.

Libby McDonald was also part of a team that won funding for a proposal to convert household organic waste in Kenya into charcoal, a common fuel in the developing world. The Takachar will implement a pilot project to increase the income of local waste-sorting youth groups by 46%. At the same time, they will collaborate with local community partners to engage in user experience surveys to market and distribute their eco-briquettes locally. With several charcoal-making youth groups, the amount of organic waste collected will be sufficient for Takachar to start a for-profit business by selling the modular components of their pyrolysis process to the youth groups, and/or by offering larger-scale, lower-cost and more efficient pyrolysis service using a gasifying technology. The team also included Kevin Kung, Yafei Han, Daisy Chang, Lyndsy Muri, Jacob Young and Kamau Gachigi.

Ella Peinovich (MArch’12) was part of a team that won a grant for its proposal to promote distributed global trade for women in under-served communities through a peer-to-peer marketplace using mobile phones, mobile money transfers and delivery services. SasaAfrica, a women?owned and operated social enterprise, offers an innovative and independent platform for female artisans and entrepreneurs in Africa to create micro-enterprises. Focused on emerging markets, SasaAfrica will connect enterprising women of the developing world to global e-commerce, even if they do not have access to the Internet, a computer or a bank account, reaching the most remote communities of entrepreneurs. The team included Gwendolyn Floyd, Catherine Mahugu, Eliza Hogan and Mari Miyachi.

Some of our students also took part in the competitive fellowship program administered by the Legatum Center. The fellowship provides funding, coaching and exclusive opportunities to meet with world-renowned entrepreneurs, thought-leaders and investors. This year’s fellows included Mihir Sarkar (PhD’12, MAS) working on education in India, Kira Intrator (MCP’12) working on Mobile/Internet and Urban Information Systems in Haiti; and Slobodan Radoman (MArch’13) working on tourism in Albania.