Check Out These Winning Ideas for Social Innovation
If you’ve ever wondered how to measure the value of diversity – ethnic diversity, certainly, but also diversity of backgrounds, diversity of ideas, and diversity of skills –look no further than the winners of this year’s Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge. Open to universities across the country, the Challenge, in partnership with Net Impact, gave 50 teams the chance to pitch their sustainable business solution or product to Walmart executives (and score some seed funding).
The winning team, hailing from the University of Virginia, includes undergraduate, graduate, and PhD students majoring in engineering, medicine, public health, business, and more. United around the global health crisis, they pooled their areas of expertise to create PureMadi, a uniquely effective water filtration system that combines modern engineering with the low-tech practicality of nature’s own materials. The PureMadi filter helps provide clean drinking water to communities who often suffer disease and even increased fatality rates due to untreated drinking water.
It’s a simple concept: clay and fibrous waste like sawdust are natural filters, but they don’t get rid of dangerous bacteria that kill 3-4 million people through waterborne disease in developing countries. So the PureMadi team added silver nitrate, a compound that acts as a disinfectant for waterborne pathogens, and the result is a filter that eliminates 99% of harmful bacteria. Expired filters are mostly recycled into new ones, but those that aren’t are compostable, thanks to their organic components. Better still, the labor and materials involved are locally sourced.
Leveraging Local Communities
Last summer, the team traveled to Limpopo in northern South Africa to build a kiln for firing the clay filtration pots. This facility is now their first production factory. In a few short months, the PureMadi team will return to train local cooperative members on the equipment and quality control. They also plan to hire and train two local managers to oversee the sales and operations of this factory.
According to PureMadi’s website, the goal is to create a blueprint for a successful factory, including its architecture, efficiency of water and energy use, technological performance of the filter itself, and an effective and sustainable business model. The result is a product that not only prevents waterborne illness, but also creates a market that builds the local economy. PureMadi is looking forward to its first sale in the coming months. “We are excited to see how customers react,” says team leader Bennet Graham, “and the impact we can have on health in our target markets.” Now, thanks to their grand prize win, they’ll be receiving $20,000 in seed money to help make their impact on the global health crisis even greater.
From Kiln Building to Internet Browsing
Not all teams in this year’s competition were so low-tech. A team from UC Davis won the first place prize of $10,000 with their e-commerce platform that supports local nonprofits. GoodKoz allows sellers to direct a percentage of profits to a nonprofit of their choice. It seems that GoodKoz effectively overcame what Dylan Fiesel thought would be their greatest challenge in the final competition: “Convincing judges that our opportunity has the biggest potential for sustainable impact over more patent-protected projects.”
The $5,000 prize filtered into the hands of RPI’s team, Dripdrop. Currently, the EPA’s complex water analysis system takes over 36 hours and is prohibitively expensive. Yet 19.5 million Americans get sick from bacteria in their water, and the agriculture industry loses $39 billion from contamination scares every year. Dripdrop provides instant water analysis that provides EPA-required data.
This year’s Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge clearly highlights the diversity of solutions that naturally stem from interdisciplinary approaches to problem-solving. Our judges were inspired by students’ creative thinking in pursuit of world-changing solutions, and our students were inspired by the feedback and mentorship they got throughout the process. We’d like to give a huge thanks and congratulations to all those involved!