575 ideas, 50 nations, $50,000: the 15th Annual Global Social Venture Competition

Launched by  Berkeley-Haas students in 1999, the annual Global Social Venture Competition is the oldest and biggest student-run competition aimed at elevating social enterprise start-ups. This year’s competition attracted more than 500 entries from 44 nations, vetted through a partnership of universities around the world. The winners, determined in the two-day finals hosted by Berkeley-Haas on April 10 and 11, shared $55,000 in prize money.


The Winners:

      First place (25,000):  Sampurn(e)arth,  India, which develops end-to-end, environmentally friendly and profitable strategies for collecting and recycling solid waste.

      Second place ($15,000):  Odyssey Sensors, United Kingdom, which  developed low-cost water sensors to boost yields for Southeast Asian shrimp farmers and other aquaculture.

      Third place: ($7,500): Baisikeli Ugunduzi, Kenya, which designed and builds bicycle productsincluding a low-cost solid tirethat drastically reduce repair costs.

Who made it happen: Berkeley-Haas studentssome 29 organizers, encompassing 11 percent of MBA candidates, with assistance from the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship. The co-chairs were Ali Kelley, Khadar Ahmed, and Christine Hamann, all MBA 15. The lead sponsors included Dow Chemical, Intel, Gray Ghost Ventures, and Hanson Bridgett. Nine universities around the world collected and vetted proposals.

The challenge: Social entrepreneurs presented business plans for path-bending new strategies and products that promise to promote social and environmental stabilityespecially in the world’s poorest communities. Winning plans are chosen on the basis of their innovative boldness; potential social or environmental impact; practicality and scalability.

The race:  Teams went through three rounds of competition: an executive summary round, regional competitions hosted by nine universities; and the final judging hosted at Berkeley-Haas. Teams received mentoring and guidance along the way on how to strengthen and sharpen their plans.  Eighteen teams reached the final round, many of them traveling to Berkeley from Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa.

What made them winners:


Sampurn(e)arth, founded by three recent graduates of Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences, impressed judges by their creative and localized strategies to make better use of municipal waste. The company trains and employs waste-pickers to collect and recycle waste, and develops local facilities for biogas production, composting and recycling.  The judges were impressed by the company’s ability to re-think a growing global problem from the ground up.


Odyssey Sensors impressed judges by their identification of very low-cost technology that both increases the yields of impoverished shrimp farmers in Bangladesh and spurs healthier environmental practices. The firm has also developed a low-cost sensor to monitor trough water levels in remote livestock farms.

GSVC_UgunduziBaisikeli Ugunduzi charmed judges and attendees with their line of extremely simple-yet-valuable line of bicycle component products. Bicycles are essential pieces of income-earning transportation equipment to many people in Kenya, but tire repair costs and downtime can reduce the income of people who rely on bicycles by 25 percent. Baisikeli developed an inexpensive solid tire, made from recycled materials, that never goes flat. It also developed a novel interior liner that reduces punctures in conventional tires, and a cheap, fast tire-repair compound.

Memorable moment:  Two of the finalistsLegWorks of the United States and SwissLeg of Switzerlandboth presented potentially revolutionary new artificial joints for leg amputees in the world’s poorest nations. LegWorks presented a functioning artificial knee that can be manufactured for only $100. Co-founder Brandon Burke, an amputee himself, was wearing one of the knees during the team’s presentation. SwissLeg unveiled a low-cost prosthetic lower limbs.  Before the finals were over, the two teams were talking about areas of possible collaboration.

The Haas Takeaway:  Once again, students did the vast bulk of preparing and organizing a competition that attracted hundreds of attendees and many leading social entrepreneurs. The final day included breakout sessions on the nuts and bolts of launching social ventures, as well as keynote speeches by two Berkeley MBA’s who did it themselves: Priya Haji, co-founder and CEO of SaveUp; and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, founder and chief impact officer of Revolution Foods.  It was an organizational effort that began months ago but that Berkeley-Haas students have honed to a science.  As in past years, second-year students show first-year students the ropes, but first-year students run the actual planning and preparation.  “It’s like running a small organization with a very targeted objective every year,” said Christine Hamann.

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