Social Entrepreneurs Ask ‘Why Not Me?’

By Kate Morris

The University of Michigan student organization optiMize recently celebrated its third annual Social Innovation Challenge Final Showcase, highlighting the efforts of multidisciplinary teams aimed at effecting social change.

Co-founder Jeff Sorenson describes optiMize as an organization designed for students and run by students who all have a common vision. They want to solve real world problems while developing their own entrepreneurial skills.

The Social Innovation Challenge consists of an intense 6-month program composed of “Innovate Nights”, individual mentorship from 40+ experts, and logistical workshops. During this time, the teams are also immersing themselves in their startups. The Final Showcase is the culminating event where the top 5 teams present their work and demonstrate how they’ve successfully brought their ideas to life. “Our dream is that in 10 years, what we call The Social Innovation Challenge is just called college” says Sorenson.

As usual, University of Michigan students stepped up with great ideas to change the world. The finalists included Change of Mind, Leesta, Ready Set Start, Bounce, and ADAPT. An impressive $33,000 was awarded in total. Here’s the lineup:

Change of Mind is a mobile app aimed at changing the anxiety treatment experience by increasing self awareness and fostering support through a community. Their app allows users to snap a “Mental Selfie” which is used to pair them up with someone who can relate, anonymously. Change of Mind took home $5,000 as a semifinalist for their venture and won the crowd vote for an additional $1,000.

The founders of Leesta are creating an in-depth database to educate our youth on impactful women in history, who are so often left out of the typical academic curriculum. Their multimedia experience will be marketed as extra-curricular support, and will include games to encourage engagement and retention. They took home a semifinalist prize of $5,000 to put towards their startup.

Ready Set Start is an organization that brings art workshops and supplies to underserved populations. The founders use art education to foster personal growth and challenge stigmas surrounding art. They were awarded $5,000 as semifinalists.

The mobile app, Bounce, allows U-M students to “Bounce Home” safely in groups. Their app targets a prevalent problem among college students, particularly women, who feel restricted to using cabs to get home safely at night. Bounce also walked away with $5,000 for their startup.

ADAPT was awarded the grand prize of $6,000. Their venture aims to improve the quality of life for those who rely on assistive devices. Their product, RainGuard, provides shelter from the rain for those in wheelchairs. It’s easy to use, customizable, and allows individuals to use both hands to wheel while not getting drenched from the rain.

Follow the teams this summer as they use their winnings to further bring their ideas to life!

Photo courtesy of optiMize.

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