Tuesday night Alex and I attended the Dell Social Innovation Awards at ACL Moody Theater. I learned about the Dell Social Innovation Challenge several months ago when we discussed it in my Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation class at the Bush School, so I was excited to attend and learn about the finalists’ projects. Nothing against my truly brilliant classmates, but the students featured at the awards were serious rock stars.
We first listened to keynote Daniel Epstein talk about his venture Unreasonable Institute and its work bringing young entrepreneurs from around the world to Boulder, Colorado for six weeks every year to live in community and make their “unreasonable” ideas to solve some of the world’s biggest problems come to life. Epstein will soon launch more Unreasonable spinoffs, including Unreasonable at Sea, a cruise around the world that will connect young tech entrepreneurs with leading businesspeople in 14 different destinations. Espstein’s goals are certainly audacious, but certainly not unattainable. As he noted, “we’re living in the biggest shift in capitalism since the industrial revolution,” meaning the climate has never been more favorable for social ventures.
Next we heard about each of the five finalist projects. I was seriously blown away by the intelligence and courage of these students, and by how insanely big and important their ideas are. My favorite group was Nanoly, who are designing a polymer called NanoShield that can encapsulate vaccines, making them resistant to heat damage and thus able to transport to areas without electricity. This invention could not only decrease the death toll of 2.1 million that die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases, but could also have an extreme impact on the field of emergency management. Nanoly walked away with the third place and audience choice award, cashing in at $11,000 and definitely making this group one to watch.
Another of my favorite projects, and the evening’s $50,000 grand prize winner, was Essmart Global. Essmart bridges a crucial gap between manufacturers and households in developing countries by placing everyday essential products such as lanterns and water filters into mom-and-pop retails shops in villages. With Essmart’s “Demonstrate, Distribute, Guarantee” motto, shop owners will be informed on the new products they can sell, products will be shipped to stores based on demand, and faulty products can be replaced if and when they fail.
Nanoly and Essmart were just two of the five Dell Social Innovation Challenge finalists, and each of the projects were incredibly smart and well crafted. I left thinking I needed to do more…like cure a disease or something. Well, maybe that was a little unrealistic for a Tuesday night, but I was certainly reminded that it’s okay to have big dreams.