An Austrian startup that developed an electronic reader and computer tablet for the blind won the $25,000 first place award at the 2016 Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC), hosted this year by Thammasat Business School and the Stock Exchange of Thailand in Bangkok, Thailand.
This is the first time the final round of judging has taken place in Asia.
Blitab Technology, founded by Kristiana Tsvetanova, Slavi Slavev and Stanislaus Slavev, invented a tablet that uploads pages of standard text and converts them into Braille code. In contrast to the screen of a conventional e-reader, the Blitab device creates pages in Braille code through tiny bubbles that rise on the screen. The device also allows visually-impaired users to type messages.
Tsvetanova, who had been studying industrial engineering at the Technical University of Sofia, in Bulgaria, got the idea after helping a blind colleague apply for an online course. The experience inspired her to think about ways to make digital technology more accessible.
Receiving the Janus Foundation/Perkins Investment Management second place award was U.S. based Astraeus Technologies, with members from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Astraeus team developed an inexpensive electronic device – the “L Card” — that detects lung cancer earlier and more accurately than most current screening methods. A person breathes on the L Card, which then detects the presence of a particular gas that is an indicator of lung cancer.
Third place went to Agruppa, a social venture start-up in Colombia that developed a business model and a smartphone app to help small neighborhood grocery stores aggregate their purchases and get lower prices.
This year’s competition attracted almost 500 social venture startups from 50 nations. Seventeen teams from 13 countries emerged as global finalists from the regional rounds of judging earlier this year. In addition to the competition, GSVC attendees were inspired by the Think Big Act Small Impact Symposium featuring global thought leaders sharing creative inspirations from their work.
Berkeley-Haas is the founding partner of the annual GSVC which brings together top student-led social ventures from around the world to compete for prizes and recognition. This year, UC Berkeley was represented by Dost, which was among the top six teams. With team members from Berkeley-Haas and the School of Information, Dost developed a mobile platform to help impoverished mothers on issues of early child development.
This year’s competition also inaugurated the Priya Haji Memorial Award, which recognizes a team that did not reach the final round. The new award was created in honor of the late Priya Haji (MBA 2003), a visionary and serial social entrepreneur whose startup, World of Good, won the 2005 GSVC. A memorial fund was established in her honor after her sudden death in 2014.
The Priya Haji award went to KOPO, a US-based venture that developed a seemingly simple plastic jug that uses the sun’s ultraviolet light and heat to kill all manner of disease-causing pathogens in river, rain and pond water. Steve Hardgrave (MBA 2005), who was on the judging panel, presented the award to Kopo.