By Edmund L. Andrews
The 2016 Global Social Venture Competition is now in the final stretch. After reviewing new business ideas from almost 500 start-up social ventures in 50 nations, judging panels from nine regional partners across the globe have selected 17 social venture teams that will travel to Bangkok, Thailand, for the final round of competition on April 1 and 2. They will be competing for $50,000 in prize money.
This is the first time in the competition’s 17-year history that the Global Finals will be held in Asia.
Among the many innovations: an e-reader for the blind that produces pages of text in braille; a library-in-a-box for students with limited access to the Internet; a low-cost system to remove pathogens from sewage water; a networking platform that allows tiny neighborhood shops to aggregate food purchases and lower their costs.
The top-performing nations this year, in terms of first-round entries, were Italy, China, the United States, France and India. Morocco and Nigeria put in strong showings as well.
All told, 178 universities were involved, and 13 countries will be represented at the Global Finals, including first-time appearances from Cameroon, Colombia and Turkey.
Five of the finalists have focused on education:
Dost, founded by UC Berkeley graduate students Sneha Sheth (Haas MBA ’16) and Sindhuja Jeyabal (I-School ‘16), has developed a mobile platform to help mothers in impoverished economies break the cycle of illiteracy. The Dost platform sends mothers pre-recorded voice messages with tips on learning activities and child development. It also collects data on the users’ demographic profiles and goals in order to customize the content.
vChalk, based in Bangalore, India, has developed a business model for offering remedial education in mathematics and English to first-generation learners. The service costs less than the price of one instructor.
Kwiizibox, based in Cameroon, has developed a credit-card sized device that provides access to millions of articles and videos, including TED talks, as well as to a specialized medical database – without necessarily requiring an Internet connection.
Otismo, based in Turkey, has developed a free mobile education smartphone app for children with autism. The venture also uses big-data analytic to help parents track and optimize their children’s education.
Blitab, a start-up based in Austria, has developed a computer tablet for the blind. The tablet displays a full page of text in braille.
In sustainable energy, San Francisco-based 10Power finances solar energy projects in developing communities. The company identifies appropriate renewable technology for specific sites, works with suppliers to install equipment, and sets up mobile pre-pay systems for customers. It also works with local entrepreneurs to take renewable energy into their communities.
In health care, Boston-based Astraeus Technologies is developing an inexpensive and portable breath-based screening test for lung cancer. The device, the L-CARD, is an RFID tag that responds to aldehyde-containing gases specific for lung cancer and produces a signal that is detected by a smartphone.
Four finalists have developed innovative ways to strengthen community services.
Agruppa, based in Colombia, has developed a business model and a smartphone app to help Mom-and-Pop neighborhood shops aggregate their purchases of fruits and vegetables and get lower prices.
Ama’s Pop-up, created by four students at National ChengChi University in Taiwan, has developed a platform to help senior citizens sell and cook meals for others as a way to fight loneliness and stay engaged in their community. The cooks set the price of each meal they prepare, and receive 95% of the revenues. The organization also allows customers to provide Yelp-style reviews.
Hygia Sanitation, a Thai venture that has been supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has developed an innovative and affordable on-site technology to remove the vast majority of pathogens from sewage that accumulates in cesspools.
iTrus, based in Singapore, has created Careville, a platform and smartphone app that allows people to match up requests for help with volunteers in a matter of seconds. Beyond the technology, Careville offers a time-credit system aimed at encouraging reciprocity between volunteers.
These are just a few of the 17 start-up social ventures that will be competing at the GSVC finals in Bangkok. GSVC’s South East Asia partner, Thammasat Business School, is hosting the two-day finale.