In February, the New Venture Competition’s Social Enterprise Track received a record 69 entries. Sixteen semifinalists presented at the end of March to expert judges from the field, who selected our four finalists. Learn more about each finalist team…
Dignify: Dignify matches refugees and locals in the developing world to globally outsourced digital work.
Laura Oller (HBS/HKS ’19, Section J); Marta Milkowska (HKS ’19); Ziad Reslan (HKS ’19)
- How did you come up with your idea? Motivated by the Hult Prize, we did a deep dive to understand the refugee crisis and come up with solutions to restore rights and dignity, by bringing together our different expertise in international development and social entrepreneurship. We had heard before of microwork as one of the most promising solutions for income generation at the bottom of the pyramid, so we started from there.
- What was the "aha" moment for your start-up? When we did field research in Greece, Uganda, Jordan, and Lebanon and realized how much demand and potential there are for a solution like this. There is so much motivation and so many skills going to waste.
- Why the New Venture Competition? We saw the New Venture Competition as a great opportunity to get feedback from experts, see how much traction Dignify would get, validate our ideas and improve our business model. Both the provided support and the financial prize are encouraging enablers for us to conduct a pilot over the summer.
- In one word, what does entrepreneurship mean to you? Commitment
Neptune: Our sewers have a grease problem. Neptune is building a better grease trap to keep our pipes clean.
Noah Stern (HBS/HKS ’18, Section A); Flint Holbrook (HBS ’18, Section A); Nic Cain
- How did you come up with your idea? Flint learned about the problem of grease clogs from his father who is a water engineer. Nic and Flint decided there must be a better way to trap grease and started doing a lot of math. It took a year of calculations and testing, but they finally discovered a better way to keep our sewer systems clean.
- What was the "aha" moment for your start-up? We spent a week locked in a garage building our first prototype. It was the definition of "bootstrapping." We were melting lard on a grill in Flint's backyard and half of the pipes for the prototype were connected with zip ties. After two days of testing, all of a sudden the water went from brown to clear. We knew at that moment we had a business.
- Why the New Venture Competition? The New Venture Competition has helped us crystalize our thinking. Win or lose, the process of preparing for a pitch forced us to put our ideas on paper and pressure test our assumptions. We will come out of NVC with an even better plan to launch our business.
- In one word, what does entrepreneurship mean to you? Perseverance
SHLD (Self-Healing and Loving Dialogue): SHLD promotes everyday coping skills and mental health resources seamlessly through social media.
Andy Riemer (HGSE ’18); Wil Cardwell (HGSE ’18); Jhenna Voorhis (HGSE ’18); Jenny Riemer
- How did you come up with your idea? I first came up with the idea after a conversation I had with my sixteen-year-old brother. Three teens died from suicides over the course of three weeks in Washington, D.C. He and his friends heard all of this over Snapchat, learning details well before the adults in their lives. Despite all the access to information, they didn't know where to find support to discuss and process these tragic events. It reminded me of something very similar that happened to me 11 years ago on Facebook, when I discovered a friend had died from suicide through a post the day after the tragic event. I knew there must be a way to reach and empower young people through social media to amplify mental wellness skills as well as connect them to professional mental health resources.
- What was the "aha" moment for your start-up? On a snowy day in late January, my wife and I were ideating on what would soon become SHLD. We took out a piece of paper and started drawing circles and arrows and dotted arrows of people and resources that we wanted to connect. Through this exercise, we realized that we wanted to inclusively have individuals talk about their own mental wellness techniques, we wanted to leverage that young people are mainly communicating peer-to-peer on social media (Snapchat and Instagram), and that there were too many barriers to access quality, just-in-time care, despite the number of existing suicide hotlines.
- Why the New Venture Competition? The New Venture Competition (NVC) has provided a foundation, a community, and goals to achieve. The foundation of the NVC has allowed SHLD to learn fundamentally essential entrepreneurial skills. The NVC has helped us access the Harvard community as well as the support of other start-up teams. Finally, the NVC set goals for us to achieve throughout the spring, which matched really well to our growth.
- In one word, what does entrepreneurship mean to you? Impact
Umbulizer: Umbulizer is developing a low-cost, portable ventilator for patients in resource-constrained markets.
Hamza Khan (HBS ’19, Section A); Shaheer Piracha; Sanchay Gupta (HMS ’21)
- How did you come up with your idea? During a recent visit to Pakistan, Shaheer’s loved one was admitted to a hospital for respiratory distress. Due to a critical shortage of mechanical ventilators and staff, he was given a bag valve mask and asked to manually ventilate a two-year old child. He frantically took turns delivering life-sustaining breaths for three nights until the child eventually passed away. Shaheer discussed this experience with Hamza and Sanchay. Since then, the three have made this project their mission.
- What was the "aha" moment for your start-up? After building the prototype, our team reached out to thirty key decision makers and users in Pakistan for feedback. We were overwhelmed by the positive market response. To give you an example, the Chief Medical Officer of Children’s Hospital in Lahore said 100 – 150 patients desperately require something like this in their hospital every day. When we heard this, we knew we were onto something worth striving for!
- Why the New Venture Competition? Being part of the NVC opened doors to an abundance of resources which we would not have access to otherwise. Providing us unparalleled opportunities to learn and grow. Workshops like Theory of Change enabled us to craft our narrative effectively while feedback from industry leaders helped us refine our business plan. In addition to benefiting from these tangible resources, there was also a less obvious value to being a part of NVC community. Simply being in the presence of other innovative change-makers reinforced our passion, motivated us to strive harder, and work together to build a better world. It was an enlightening experience for us and we recommend you to try it too!>
- In one word, what does entrepreneurship mean to you? Passion