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Professor Chad Syverson cited external and internal factors that determine company productivity in his presentation for the Steingraber/A. T. Kearney Speaker Series.

A powerful product for people in the dark

Watching the relief efforts following Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake in 2010 and other disasters inspired Andrea Sreshta and her teammate Anna Stork to develop an inflatable solar-powered lantern. Their venture, LuminAID Lab, won first place at the Social New Venture Challenge, the competition for Booth students who want to launch companies that benefit society.

Sreshta, a first-year student in Booth’s Full-Time MBA Program, said the competition— and its $25,000 first-place prize—will help them take the business a step further. “We’ve been trying to scale the business for a while, but we’ve learned that nothing will scale without input from other people,” she said. “Input from the competition’s mentors and my fellow students will help us take the company to the next level.”

Competition judge Ron Grzywinski told Sreshta that LuminAID Lab won because of the large number of people who could benefit from a resource as basic as power. “My colleagues and I have worked in about 80 developing countries, and your product is clearly the most impactful,” said Grzywinski, a founder of Chicago’s ShoreBank. “You’re a step ahead of other solar entrepreneurs.”

More than 30 teams applied for the 2012 SNVC, which was hosted by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and the Social Enterprise Initiative. The competition was sponsored by Exelon Corp. and Ron Tarrson ’72 (XP-31), owner of Santa Fe Aero Services. The Social New Venture Challenge, in its second year, encourages students to use the Booth penchant for rigorous analysis to bring ideas to market that have a mission beyond profit.

The 19 teams admitted to the competition were enrolled into a 10-week course that focused on planning, launching, and growing the social ventures. Teams also worked closely with mentors and judges from social entrepreneurship fields to refine their business plans and prepare their pitches for the competition. The goal of the competition is to make as much progress as possible in a limited amount of time.

“Unlike in the real world, where you can choose when you want to move forward, here you are stuck with a date,” joked Robert Gertner, deputy dean and Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance, who teaches the competition’s New Social Ventures course and serves as faculty advisor for the competition.

On May 30, the seven finalist teams gathered with friends and family members to spend the day making their pitches to the 11 judges. As Gertner prepared to announce the winners, he surprised the group with an award for the team that made the most progress during the quarter. Voice Your Opinion received $5,000 for its online platform that aims to help people in post-revolution Egypt continue civic and political activity.

The competition’s third-place team, Dot-to-Dot Children’s Books, took home $10,000 for its mission to support girls’ education through children’s books. The team FeMME won the second-place $15,000 prize for its venture, which will fortify common foods with iron to prevent anemia in women and children.

First-year, full-time student Lisa Lee-Herbert saw her team’s idea go from concept to reality in the short 10 weeks. The venture, First Principals, recruits business executives to mentor Chicago Public Schools principals on leadership and management. The nonprofit made it to the finals and expects to launch its first program in fall 2012 with 15 schools.

“The competition gives you the opportunity to fall on your face early on,” Lee-Herbert said. “You’re incorporating feedback up to the last day.”



—Kadesha Thomas
Photo by Anne Ryan