How YOU Can Change The World

This competition gives students the chance to turn their ideas to reality.

It’s common for college students to want to change the world. Thanks to the University of San Diego Social Innovation Challenge, some lucky students in the San Diego area will actually get a chance to.

The Center of Peace and Commerce at USD is offering students the chance to submit their idea for a social enterprise into a competition among college-level students in San Diego. The prize? Up to $75,000 in funding for their idea.

The project aims to help students “generate ideas for innovative ventures that respond to a social or environmental issue of their choice and compete for seed funding to launch or expand their ventures,” their website explains.

While it was originally only offered to graduate students in USD’s MBA program, SIC was made available to all USD students in subsequent years, and in 2014, for the first time, it is being opened up to students on all the university campuses across San Diego UCSD included.

Since its start in 2011, the program has led to funding for a number of philanthropic startups. The first ever first-place finisher was USD student Tiffany Owen’s project, “Clean California, Clean Haiti,” which provided funding for volunteers to go door-to-door in La Jolla and recruit families to contribute their week’s recycling to the volunteers who would, in turn, redeem it for cash. The cash proceeds were then put toward installing water purification systems in Haiti. Within a year, three of those systems were installed in Haiti as a result of the program.

Not all projects expand overseas. One of 2013’s finalists (and a recipient of $5,000 in funding) was the G.R.O.W.I.N.G. project, which sought to provide jobs for refugee farmers from Burma that are now living in San Diego. The money was used to provide the otherwise unemployable refugees with fertile land to grow produce native to their home country which they could then sell at farmers’ markets across the county.

This year’s SIC has more funding than ever before. Fortunately for entrepreneurial UCSD students, there is now an opportunity for them to get in on the action. Here’s how:

The application process consists of four rounds. In the first round, students must respond to a series of online questions (such as, who benefits most from your social innovation?) meant to give judges a detailed outline of the goals and scope of potential projects. If a student’s project is chosen to become a semifinalist, then the student must submit a video (around two minutes) detailing the project and a more complete outline of the project. From there, finalists are selected, and they are given six minutes in front of a live panel of judges to pitch their idea. The final round, held on May 1 this year, is the award ceremony. Here, finalists have 90 seconds to pitch their project in front of another live audience.

Although many of the finalists from past years have had well-developed business plans with clearly defined expectations and results, the program is tailored to projects in all phases of development, with four distinct project entry categories. These categories range from define —  which is the category for ideas that only exist on a conceptual level with little to no research done yet — to scale, the category for projects that have already succeeded and are looking for more funding to expand their footprint.

Even though the process may sound daunting, the $75,000 in available funding provides students with a rare opportunity, as proven by last year’s 114 submissions. This year promises an even bigger turnout due to the drastic increase in eligible participants.

Interested in joining in on the action? The deadline for submitting the Round 1 questions is Feb. 16 on the website listed below.

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