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Team Soular won first place for technology to increase access to clean water for Nicaraguan communities.
Team Soular won first place for technology to increase access to clean water for Nicaraguan communities.
BME Health Reach, winner of Best Domestic Solution, was among finalists who presented in the poster showcase.
BME Health Reach, winner of Best Domestic Solution, was among finalists who presented in the poster showcase.

Ideas to Serve Competition Honors Business Concepts Aiming to Improve World

Nicaraguan families who’ve had to spend many hours each day trekking to collect enough clean water could have more time to devote to more productive pursuits, thanks to the technology that won Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business’ 2014 Ideas to Serve (I2S) Competition.

The winning team, called Team Soular, won $7,000 for its plan to improve the efficiency of water pumps on which Nicaraguans rely. Team Soular’s technology involves modifications to the solar-power generation system fueling the water delivery.

Open to all Georgia Tech students and recent alumni, the I2S competition involves innovative business concepts that could help improve society or preserve the environment. The finals were held earlier this month at a poster showcase in the Technology Square Research Building.

The winning Team Soular’s members include David Hotard, who graduated with a BS in industrial design in May 2013; Erica Raymond, an industrial design major graduating in May; and Alexios Koltsidopoulos Papatzimos, a mechanical engineering exchange student at Tech from the University of Leeds.

Their concept for Team Soular was developed through an interdisciplinary industrial design project. The non-profit organization Amigos for Christ gave Team Soular the opportunity to design a system that would provide an adequate supply of clean water to communities in Chinandega, Nicaragua (100 gallons per day for a family of four).

Collaborating with Georgia Tech Research Institute enabled Team Soular to modify a low-cost stationary solar panel system with programmable logical controllers and other technology so that it could tilt to better track the sun, adding 20 percent more power to current water pumps. This improvement could provide an additional 1,200 gallons per day than current technology (enough for 12 additional families).

This summer, Team Soular (you can watch its one-minute pitch video here) plans to travel to Nicaragua to test its system outside of the lab. Eventually its members would like to identify communities in Africa that could benefit from the technology.

“The Ideas to Serve Competition gave us the motivation to continue pursuing the idea,” Papatzimos says. “Our advisor in the competition and available workshops helped us from a business perspective because we didn’t have that background.”

Growing Interest

Scheller College’s Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship (ILE) started the annual I2S Competition in 2009. Dori Pap, assistant director of ILE says that “every year the projects are getting stronger, and more and more students are drawn to work on sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. It’s great to see that social and environmental innovation – something that ILE has been supporting for a long time – is not a niche endeavor anymore, but a mainstream goal.

“We are proud to have a student body that is passionate about creating better communities around them and across the globe. They definitely have the skills to bring that change,” Pap adds.

Since the competition invites both newly hatched and more mature plans, there are two tracks: the Ideas Track and the Advanced Track for teams whose projects are closer to market.

Other 2014 winners include:

  • Medical Emergency Information Service (second place, $3,000), which develops methods and processes to rapidly provide personal and medical information about a trauma patient to EMI technicians. See pitch video.
  • Lightboards (third place, $2,000), a skateboard company designed to provide employment and mentorship to young men in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, while creating artistic and lasting hand-made skateboard decks to meet the desires of a growing local market. See pitch video.
  • Flow MedTech (Advanced Track winner, $2,500), which plans to revolutionize the medical implant field by becoming a leader in the treatment of cardiac defects and vascular problems through proprietary occlusal device technology. See pitch video.
  • BME Health Reach (Best Domestic Solution winner, $2,000), which aims to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) topics to children who are missing school for prolonged periods due to illness. BME employs hands-on activities. Currently, BME Health Reach allows Tech students to teach sickle-cell anemia patients at two area hospitals. See pitch video.

Students who wanted to participate in Ideas to Serve formed teams and recruited faculty or alumni mentors, sometimes looking to ILE to connect them with local entrepreneurs, business analysts, and venture capitalists.

Then they set about drawing upon a plan presenting both a compelling business case and addressing a significant social need. Next, the teams delivered executive summaires that a panel of judges ranked to produce a list of final contestants. About half made the cut.

In addition the major prizes awarded, other honors presented included the best video pitch, best poster, and the People’s Choice prize.

I2S relies on financial support from the The John and Hal Smith Family Foundation, Gray Ghost Ventures, The Cecil B. Day Center for Business Ethics, Georgia Tech’s Denning Technology and Management Program, SpeechWorks, and the Tedd Munchak Chair in Entrepreneurship.

For I2S competitors who continue to work on their projects, the ILE offers a global opportunity to measure the strength of their concepts project by participating in the Global Social Venture Competition, for which Georgia Tech is one of the nine regional organizers located around the world.

“The synergy between the two competitions provides a great advantage to Georgia Tech students, strengthening the ecosystem of creativity at Georgia Tech,” says Professor Terry Blum, director of ILE.


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