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LuminAID Lab Takes Top Prize at Second Annual Social Venture Competition

June 01, 2012


Chicago (May 25, 2012) – The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, its Social Enterprise Initiative and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship are pleased to announce the winners of the second annual Social New Venture Challenge, the school’s premier start-up competition for social ventures.

The Social NVC spans the full academic year and helps students launch and run new businesses with a focus on social impact. Modeled after the original Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, Social NVC companies can be structured either as for-profits or nonprofits and must show a model for financial sustainability. More than 30 teams applied to the program, which culminated at the finals event on May 30. This year’s winners, chosen from a group of seven finalists, were awarded $55,000 in cash prizes, and gained access to business services:

  • LuminAID Lab won the first place prize of $25,000. LuminAID Lab develops cost-effective, solar-rechargeable lighting products in order to make light more affordable, portable, and sustainable. The company’s first product, the LuminAID light, is an inflatable, lightweight, waterproof solar lantern that can be packed and shipped flat, and is ideal for use in emergency and disaster situation.
  • FeMME placed second and received a $15,000 prize. FeMME is dedicated to reducing the incidence of iron deficiency anemia in the developing world by creating a replicable system for fortifying commonly consumed foods with iron. FeMME targets simple, healthful foods that have established distribution channels in rural areas.
  • Dot-to-Dot Children’s Books placed third and received $10,000. The company engages communities around the world in developing children’s books that it sells through cause-related marketing campaign s to raise funding and awareness for important nonprofit causes.
  • Voice Your Opinion, an online platform that will help the people of Egypt self-organize into community building activities and movements, was recognized with “Greatest Progress Award” This first-ever award was granted to the Social NVC team that made the most progress over the course of the spring quarter, and came with a $5,000 cash prize. This award was given in honor of Linda Darragh, Polsky Center director of entrepreneurship programs and clinical associate director of entrepreneurship, who helped launch the social enterprise programs at Chicago Booth.

This year’s other finalists included First Principals, which provides pro bono executive leadership coaching to Chicago principals to help create and sustain school improvements that drive student learning; Moneythink, which educates urban high school students on the importance of financial literacy and entrepreneurship using a peer-mentorship approach; and Social Canvas, an online community and marketplace for artists with disabilities and socially-conscious customers of fine artwork.

“Congratulations to the winners and to all of the participants in the 2012 Social New Venture Challenge,” said Robert Gertner, Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance, deputy dean, and faculty co-director of the Social Enterprise Initiative. “Teams came together from all areas of the University of Chicago campus to work on some truly inspiring businesses. We’re eager to see these startups grow.”

The success of the Social New Venture Challenge is made possible through the generous support of sponsors, including Ron Tarrson, ’72, managing partner and director, Santa Fe Aero Services; Steve Tarrson; and Exelon. Ron Tarrson also generously sponsored the Greatest Progress Award.

About the New Venture Challenge Program
The New Venture Challenge started in 1996, and includes two phases and a finals competition. During the fall, students from around the University of Chicago pitch business ideas, collaborate, and form teams. In early February, student teams submit feasibility summaries about their proposed ventures, and a number of teams are then selected to advance to the second phase, where they develop their ideas into full business plans with instructor guidance and critique from venture capitalists, private investors, and established entrepreneurs. Finalist teams are selected to present their start-up at the finals competition before a world-class panel of investors and entrepreneurs, who determine the winners.

The NVC expanded globally in 2008 to allow Executive MBA students and alumni from around the world to participate. The Global NVC track is designed to fit the needs of students in disparate locations by engaging alumni and industry experts throughout the world to assist in marketing, coaching, and individual mentoring. Judging sessions for Global NVC semi-finalists take place in London and Singapore, with finalists presenting before a panel of judges in Chicago in March.  

In 2010, the NVC curriculum was expanded through an analogous challenge focused on new social ventures. Modeled after the traditional NVC, the Social NVC spans several months, allowing students to conceptualize, develop, and launch new social ventures through classroom instruction, mentorship, and coaching. Qualifying companies and organizations can be structured either as for-profits or nonprofits but must show a focus on social impact as well as a model for financial sustainability—either through profits, earned income, philanthropy, government aid, or some combination thereof.

Since its launch in 1996, the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge has awarded more than $825,000 in cash prizes, plus more than $2M in business services. The NVC process has helped launch more than 75 companies, which have gone on to raise over $242 million in funding and have created more than 1,000 jobs. NVC companies include Agile Diagnosis, Alltution, BenchPrep, Braintree, brightroom, Bump, Future Simple, GrubHub, InContext Solutions, and MedSpeed, among others.

About the Social Enterprise Initiative
The Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI) at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business aims to enhance the efficiency and impact of social sector organizations through research, data collection,communication, and education. Established to support interest in the nonprofit and social sectors, SEI builds on Chicago Booth's commitment to rigorous analysis and its discipline-based approach to understanding organizations, markets, and policy. The initiative's mission is to further the field of research on issues of importance to the social sector and to support social enterprises that wish to apply proven business practices to strategic decision-making and organization management. Visit the SEI website for more information.

About the Polsky Center
The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship is the leading resource for University of Chicago students and alumni as they pursue entrepreneurial endeavors and private equity careers. The center supports entrepreneurial development through its cutting-edge curriculum, innovative hands-on learning experiences, leading faculty research, conferences, and community and global outreach programs. Entrepreneurship is the second largest concentration at Chicago Booth, and, with an impressive growing network of students and alumni as entrepreneurs, the Polsky Center is dedicated to expanding and capitalizing on this vibrant and active sector of our economy. For more information, visit the Polsky Center website.

About the University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Chicago Booth is one of the leading business schools in the world The school’s faculty incudes many renowned scholars and its graduates include many business leaders across the U.S. and worldwide. The Chicago Approach to Management Education is distinguished by how it leverages fundamental knowledge, its rigor, and its practical application to business challenges. Chicago Booth offers a full-time M.B.A. program, an evening M.B.A. program, a weekend M.B.A. program and an executive M.B.A. program in Chicago, London and Singapore. The school also offers a Ph.D. program, open enrollment executive education and custom corporate education. For more information, visit the Chicago Booth website.