Entrepreneurship is the answer to almost every single problem we have in the world today.
So says Daniel Epstein, founder of the Unreasonable Institute, as he spoke in front of the crowd of 200-plus gathered at the Moody Theater Tuesday night for the Dell Social Innovation Challenge awards.
DSIC invites college students from around the globe to develop and submit transformative, entrepreneurial ideas that solve a social problem; almost every major issue on the planet from energy to education to economic development is addressed. The winner of the competition receives $50,000 to bring their project to life.
After weeks of reviewing more than 1,700 entries that came in from over 100 countries, the judges decided on the five finalists, who were presented at the awards event on June 12.
Epstein, the keynote speaker, said, "The world is better today than it's ever been in the history of humankind. But it's still not good enough. When entrepreneurs see problems, they see opportunities and solutions."
He went on to say that socially entrepreneurial organizations exist to solve Big Fucking Problems — which he more diplomatically referred to as BFPs for the rest of the evening. "Is it too unreasonable? Of course it is. That's why we're going to do it."
"We hope that this movement will create a ripple that becomes a wave, for students who don't believe you have to choose mission over money. Together, we really can change the world." - Suzi Sosa
The five finalists were then introduced, and each team leader had 90 seconds to make a pitch to tell the audience about their innovative project and vie for an additional $1,000 Audience Choice Award. The finalists were:
"Essmart gives rural retail shop owners access to products that improve their customers' lives. We are a technology distributor working with existing retail shops to reach end users. We deliver the goods. Essmart is an essential technology distributor with an embedded retail presence in India’s rural shops, beginning in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu. Our model focuses on the distribution gap by combining process innovations in sourcing high-quality technologies and distributing to rural areas. We reach end users through the extensive retail shop network that services local communities."
"HPP will provide sanitation and electricity to rural India by building community toilets and harnessing human waste to produce methane and electricity that will be distributed to the community via 12-V batteries. Indians lack access to two critical pieces of infrastructure, toilets and electricity. Our project, The Humanure Power Project (HPP), aims to alleviate both of these issues by connecting existing and proven technologies."
"The mission is to provide video lecture classes to poor, rural students in Bangladesh, Palestine, and Rwanda, to break the wall of gap between rich and poor. There’s huge shortage of teachers in rural and under-developed regions, and our project is to provide best teaching material in DVD for students in these areas to help them get to universities."
"Using the latest technology, 33 Buckets has designed a filter that will provide a girls' school in rural Bangladesh with arsenic-free water that they can sell to the community in a sustainable microfinance business. Over 77 million people in Bangladesh, approximately ¼ of the population of the U.S., have been exposed to toxic amounts of arsenic in well water. This chronic exposure has lead to arsenic becoming the leading cause of death in Bangladesh. We’ve designed a reasonably priced water purification system to provide safe drinking water to the school. Our filter will not require electricity and will produce at least 4,000 gallons of drinking water per day."
"2.1 million people die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases because of accessibility problems. Nanoly’s technology enables vaccines to be delivered to anywhere in the world without refrigeration. Nanoly's technology enables cheap, convenient, and safe delivery of vaccines to anywhere in the world. We are developing a nanoparticle based chemical shield that protects the vaccine for improved storage and transportation without refrigeration."
Philanthropist Tom Meredith, former CFO of Dell and currently the Chairman of the Board at Bazaarvoice, presented the winners. After 33 Buckets and e-Education were named as runners-up, Meredith announced the Third Prize winner: Nanoly, receiving $10,000. Second Prize went to Humanure, receiving $20,000 in award money.
The Grand Prize winner was Essmart Global, receiving $50,000 in prize money and the prestige of being named the best new Social Innovation project by Dell. Team leader Jacki Stenson of the University of Cambridge didn't even prepare anything to say.
"We didn't think we had a chance of winning," she admitted. "We're really excited about the problem of distribution around the world. Although it's not sexy, it has the power to change lives."
Meredith told all five finalists, "You are carrying a great weight in trying to make the world a better place."
Suzi Sosa, Executive Director of the DSIC, told the young social innovators that DSIC would back them when their parents tell them to take the safe job.
"We believe students are poised at a unique crossroads in their lives, to see what the world needs. We hope that this movement will create a ripple that becomes a wave, for students who don't believe you have to choose mission over money. Together, we really can change the world."
The evening was closed in style and with high energy by Apl.de.ap of The Black Eyed Peas, who performed three songs ending with Where Is The Love.
In addition to being a successful musical artist and record producer, Apl.de.ap knows a thing or two about social innovation. He founded the APL Foundation, which is committed to giving back to communities and children in the Philippines and throughout Asia.
"My favorite thing about DSIC is its ability to corral solutions of all sorts from the most imaginative people from around the world," Apl.de.ap said. "It shows me the potential we have as citizens to improve life at all levels with ideas that could make a huge difference both socially and economically."
The Dell Social Innovation Challenge was launched in 2007 by the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin. In 2008 Dell became the title sponsor, lending its name and resources.
Dell announced a $5 million gift in 2011, to engage more than 60,000 students a year, who receive world-class teaching and training, as well as with start-up capital and access to a network of mentors and advisors.
For more information about the challenge, award winners and how students can enter for next year, go to http://www.dellchallenge.org.