San Diego Student Entrepreneurs Dazzle at the USD Social Innovation Challenge

May 7, 2014

3:00 pm

On May 2, the University of San Diego (USD) announced the students who took home the gold at the Social Innovation Challenge (SIC), a multi-school innovation effort led by USD. This year marked the fourth year of the SIC, and USD was able to provide a $70,000 purse to be split amongst the winning teams.

“Social Innovation is the business of empowering emerging leaders to solve real world problems faced by vulnerable populations,” says Nadia Auch, director of the Social Innovation Challenge.

“The outcome for society at large is job creation, safer streets, better-educated children, optimal use of resources, and human and social capital reinvestment,” says Dr. Stephen Conroy, faculty director of the Center for Peace and Commerce.

This year’s event was sponsored by The Moxie Foundation, and their donation made it possible for USD to open a secondary track for student innovators from Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego City College, San Diego State University, and University of California San Diego. CommNexus, Connect, San Diego Social Venture Partners, and Indiegogo stepped forward to help as well.

All in all there were over 115 different ideas submitted by student entrepreneurs, but only 16 ideas were selected to be pitched to the panel of judges. Jenny Criag, Keith Muhart, Peg Ross, Ned McMahon, Siyamak Khorrami, Kapil Sharma, Teresa Smith, Necla Tschirgi, Michelle Weinger, and Peter Zahn were the ones making the final call on who would take home the prize money.

The winning startups are:

$50,000 USD Track

  • Rice Pollution Solution ($20,000): They reduce the heavy metals in rice, lower the potential of cancer, and improve food quality throughout the world by implementing a retention pool on the top terrace of rice paddies.
  • Green Room ($15,000): Green Room is an out-of-the-box learning environment that provides underprivileged students with the advanced resources needed to develop green technology projects in their neighborhood by inspiring students to explore STEM fields.
  • Pacific Clean Tech ($5,000): A veteran-owned and operated sustainable solutions company with a mission to create jobs for veterans by helping businesses become more environmentally sustainable.
  • G.R.O.W.I.N.G. ($5,000): A dynamic job placement program which offers culturally appropriate opportunities to refugee farmers and entrepreneurs from Burma living in San Diego.
  • Memoria ($5,000): A secure web application specially designed for collecting data on victims of violence and human abuses in Mexico to help victims document crime and hold authorities accountable.

$17,500 Moxie External Track

  • W.E. Do Good ($10,000): They are developing an affordable, portable, and durable mechanical thresher to improve the difficult, time-consuming, unsanitary, and resource-inefficient harvesting of teff for farmers in Ethiopia.
  • Vena ($5,000): A low-cost, scalable, zero-energy water harvester for developing regions lacking access to potable water: a design modeled after the cacti that uses differences between below and above ground temperatures to trigger a dew point.
  • Art Without a Roof ($2,500): They provide apparel infused with creative designs from artists impacted by homelessness, and the profits are cycled back to fund education and art therapy for the youth without a roof.


  • Rise Above: A program where USD students mentor and tutor at-risk youth in neighboring public schools.
  • Fundpal: A solution whereby nonprofits can accept donations via Twitter.
  • Back to Work: A campaign that is out to encourage and give homeless San Diegans the confidence they need to get back into the workforce and reestablish a sense of belonging in our community.
  • Solar Umbrella: A standalone patio umbrella that uses solar panels to provide 110V wall outlets and USB charging ports.
  • ProductBio: A procurement tool that uses data to simplify finding sustainable products.
  • Fiji Kindergarten: They create sustainable, low-cost, and easy-to-build kindergartens from two shipping containers for 20-30 children.
  • Pullee Mobile Donations: A mobile system that lets anyone donate money directly to a person in need via a mobile device with the added guarantee that the donation will only be spent on essentials.
  • One Village Philippines: They strive to solve issues impacting low-income communities in the Philippines, including a need for lighting and safety in living structures.


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Will is a Senior Writer with Tech.Co, based out of America’s Finest City: San Diego. He covers all territory West of the Mississippi river, digging deep for awesome local entrepreneurs, companies, and ideas. He’s the resident Android junkie and will be happy to tell you why you should switch to the OS. When he’s off the clock, Will focuses his literary talent on the art of creative writing…or you might find him surfing in Ocean Beach.

Follow Will on Twitter @WJS1988

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