2012 Semi-finalists

The Venture Think Tank@ North Korea

While you might think more of missiles and goose-stepping soldiers when you hear “North Korea,” we think of capital-starved North Korean entrepreneurs, emerging in a growing unofficial private sector, coping with difficult government regulations. Through economic policy workshops we have conducted in North Korea, we identified how a “Venture Think Tank” that seeks to develop “governo-preneurs” can drive business-friendly policy changes and raise living standards for 30 million people. Think of us as a Teach for America, but for transforming the business environment. Teach for America provides opportunities for bright young Americans to become interested in education reform early in their careers through hands-on teaching experiences. Our Venture Think Tank identifies government officials who have track records as drivers of change (governo-preneurs) who will become venture capitalists for two years at a combined venture fund and think tank. The venture think tank’s role is to provide capital and advice to North Korean entrepreneurs and help governo-preneurs appreciate the challenges faced by businesses through the following ways:

  • During the investment phase, governo-preneurs learn how laws, policies and regulations affect profitability in evaluating business plans
  • Post-investment, governo-preneurs support the portfolio entrepreneurs by helping them to grow their business, and gain exposure to the challenges of running a business in North Korea
  • At the end of their tenure, governo-preneurs bring insights from their hands-on experience back to their policymaking work

This idea is feasible based on past projects we (Choson Exchange) have done in North Korea (see www.chosonexchange.org) and interviews with successful foreign businesses and a lender in the North Korean market. North Korean partners have responded enthusiastically to this concept. Most importantly, this period of transition is a critical opportunity to shape policies in North Korea and we believe now is the time to act!

pledge4good

We started pledge4good to develop tools for the nonprofit sector that galvanize Millennials and establish a new culture of philanthropy. pledge4good.com builds upon the effectiveness of leveraging relationships and donations tied to events (e.g. walkathons), while layering on functionality largely overlooked by the nonprofit sector including: game dynamics, minimal-click checkout, mobile, and micro-transactions. Specifically, pledge4good.com lets people donate without changing their daily routines by tying donations to everyday activities, such as donating $1 to the Fisher House Foundation for every pound lost or $1 to Harvard University for every win by the Harvard Men’s Basketball team. Further, users can invite friends via Facebook, Twitter, or email to join their pledge and make a supporting donation upon achievement of the goal or event trigger underlying the user’s pledge. In this way, friends and family can pursue personal goals, easily share achievements, and engage social networks in a new way, all while supporting a favorite nonprofit. For nonprofits, pledge4good lowers fundraising and donor acquisition costs, permits micro-donations as low as $1.00, and lessens donation seasonality. Visit pledge4good.com to Live, Share, Give!

Essmart: A Rural Retail Company in Southern India

Essmart is an essential technology distributor with an in-store presence. Currently, essential technologies such as bicycle-powered machines, affordable solar lanterns, and smokeless cook stoves designed for the bottom of the pyramid are not well distributed. Local retail shop owners do not sell these products because they don’t know about them, don’t know how to get them, and don’t know how to market them. Essmart combines process innovations in product sourcing, distribution, marketing, and after-sales service to bring essential technologies to their intended end-user through the local retail shop network. We are starting operations in southern India, where we have established preliminary relationships with two shop owners. As part of our pilot phase, they completely sold our 17 demonstration products within one week. Essmart makes essential technologies available in underserved communities. We deliver the goods.

A Better Life

Better Life is a gaming company that simulates the life at the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) and allows players to actually help give someone a better life. Players are immersed into a world unlike their own, experiencing the realistic hardships and struggles of living under $2/day, but with the ability to translate their monetary and time investments in the game into actual goods and services for those in need. Better Life will be structured as a social enterprise gaming company, pairing BOP expertise from international NGOs with the popularity of online gaming. Through grants to our NGO partners, we provide an alternate and sustainable revenue source for them, while building an unlikely new donor base from game players. Better Life will tap into a tremendous existing market of 10-20 million online game users, creating a new donation platform for these users as donors and a new revenue model for high-performing NGOs.

Kismet Denim

Apparel’s social and environmental cost is high.  Child labor is common throughout the production process – from cotton harvesting through manufacturing.  Clothing production competes for resources such as land, water and energy.  Consumers are often unaware of the impact of the products they buy and see few alternatives to consume more responsibly.  Kismet’s vision is a world in which all apparel is produced with transparency and respect. To achieve this, Kismet will develop best practices and new standards for ethical fashion (incorporating Fair Trade, Organic, and handmade materials) through the production of premium, responsible denim jeans. Kismet will make beautiful, flattering, “feel-good” denim jeans for sophisticated women, ages 30-50, who are currently underserved by the premium denim market.  Kismet will be one of the only organic denim brands in the U.S. and will be a leader in the Fair Trade apparel space. Kismet will source Organic and Fair Trade denim from mills in countries like India and Pakistan and will source artisanal fabrics from Fair Trade retailers and NGOs.  All elements of production will be evaluated for minimal environmental impact.  Cut and sew production will initially be performed in the US, but will eventually be moved to a newly certified Fair Trade factory (most likely in Mexico).  There are currently only 3 Fair Trade certified factories in the world. Jeans will be sold through the internet and through direct sales to boutique and resale buyers.  Kismet is currently in validation phase, using denim samples from a potential partner in India and sketches by a California denim designer to gain customer feedback.

OyeIndia

The ancient heritage of Indian handicraft is rich with sensual colors, materials, and designs, boasting a high level of craftsmanship. Today, it represents the second largest employment sector in India, and captures the talents of over 23 million craftspeople. However, there are facets of the sector that are deeply concerning. Despite the richly personal nature of their “good goods”, daily wages are between $2 and $3, hardly enough to support a reasonable standard of living. Furthermore, artisans often enlist the help of their children, at the expense of education, to support their families. Oyeindia offers an innovative framework to bring welfare and recognition to artisans. It will unite customers with artisans to co-create products in accordance with evolving tastes. Playing the role of both trader and retailer, OyeIndia will collaborate directly with artisan groups in India on product design, quality control, logistics and finance. We believe that creating and promoting a reliable channel for authentic, consumer-responsive designs will help to ensure that these fine goods reach far broader markets and receive the price they deserve. Helping artisans through a better rate of pay and a more predictable income stream will ultimately improve standards of living, help preserve a 5000 years old tradition, and eliminate the need for participant families to involve their children in craft labour.

Emprofit

Emprofit, “Empower through Profit,” focuses on job creation through a commission-based, door-to-door sales team while reinvesting profits to expand and provide employee benefits. Two years after the devastating earthquake, over a half million Haitians still live in squalid internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. With 40% recorded unemployment, job creation is essential for long-term poverty alleviation. While in Haiti, we are met with an overwhelming desire for jobs and self-sufficiency, inspiring the creation of Emprofit. Our model combines the best practices of a direct sales company and a microfranchise. Our target market includes middle to upper class Haitians with disposable income, creating a sustainable redistribution of wealth. Door-to-door sales is a novel concept in Haiti and after conducting market research, including 231 surveys, we found that Haitians are receptive to this approach and our specific products. We are in a development phase with plans to pilot in  March, launch in June and scale up by next year. Emprofit is focused on positive outcomes, not just outputs, to improve the lives of our employees.

Ho‘oulu Pacific

Ho’oulu Pacific seeks to increase the self-sufficiency and health of Pacific Islanders in order to address the epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, unemployment, and emigration in the region. We employ modern agricultural technology and management to enable Pacific Islanders in developing economies to grow fresh vegetables and Omega-3 rich fish.  These nutritious foods will replace a diet high in calories, low in nutrition, and lacking in vegetables, which many are forced to consume because of limited budgets. Our aquaponic system produces vegetables and fish symbiotically¸ is inexpensive, has a small footprint, and can be set up anywhere.  It is six times more productive per unit area than traditional farming and uses only 2% as much water, making it ideal for the Pacific Islands and any area around the world where arable land and fresh water are at a premium. The system has been field-tested in the Pacific Islands with great success and interest from local communities. Ho’oulu Pacific will be structured around community-centric HUBs that will provide capital, long-term management, and scientific support and will leverage economies of scale to supply individual farmers at affordable rates. Each HUB will support a network of farmers and will process and distribute any vegetables produced beyond each household’s needs.Revenue generated will be reinvested into the program to establish additional HUBs.

Educate Lanka

Too many students drop out of school not because they don’t want to learn, but because they cannot afford basic educational expenses such as transportation, boarding, and stationery. In Sri Lanka alone, almost 250,000 students face this challenge every year. This is a major problem not only for Sri Lanka, but also for many other developing countries. Over the past couple of years, we have piloted a successful non-profit peer-to-peer, online micro-scholarship model called Educate Lanka (www.educatelanka.org) to address this issue. Today, Educate Lanka underwrites the education of over 250 underprivileged students across Sri Lanka by matching them with over 200 Sri Lankan Diaspora from the developed world. To address this problem globally, we have already conducted due diligence and identified partners in Bangladesh to replicate our micro-scholarship model. But, access to education is not often sufficient to realize the full potential of students. So, as a second stage, we are developing a fee-based corporate partnership model to provide students with workforce development and job training to improve their employability. As an initial step in launching this model, we recently partnered (signed MoU) with a major private corporation and the Ministry of Education in Sri Lanka. The need is urgent, and the time is right for us to take the next steps. That’s why we believe it is imperative for us to take Educate Lanka from a voluntary project to a fully-fledged global organization to not just serve the underprivileged students and youth in Sri Lanka, but the estimated 100 million of them across the developing world.

Good Earth- Aidvertising

How can you make money from nothing to support NPOs?

I imagine a smart-phone application that uses the screen of a currently not used device for advertising messages. The application is programmed to detect whether the device is stored away or lying on the table. If the device is lying on the table, the application starts on its own like a screensaver and commercials are shown on its screen. The money companies pay for their commercials is donated to beneficial organizations. This is a service for smart-phone owners to do good without putting any effort into it.

Jamela Oil

Our company, Jamela Oil, is a luxury cosmetics company offering a brand of all-natural facial moisturizing oils to be sold through spas in the US. We are committed to working with the rural poor in southern Morocco to create sustainable sources of income that both preserve the environment and alleviate poverty for the region. Our primary product is argan oil, in its pure form. Argan oil, unique to the region, is widely demanded in high-end cosmetics for its excellent anti-aging effects. While existing producer cooperatives of argan oil have succeeded in increasing income for their members, the majority of sales value is captured by large companies abroad. We are building the first argan business that will steadily invest an increasing portion of profits in Morocco. Our investments will not only fund social programs such as tree replanting efforts, healthcare benefits, and literacy classes, but also support skill building to ensure that all high value-add production will take place in Morocco by year 5. This will significantly increase household income and expand forest coverage to combat desertification.

SmartBridge

SmartBridge develops and produces a clean tech social game for energy utility companies and co-ops to encourage behavioral changes in energy use among utility customers by:

  • modifying behavior among users toward awareness of energy consumption, efficiency and sustainability
  • educating and increasing awareness and acceptance of the smart grid in a fun game and shifting electricity consumption to off-peak periods
  • creating a new and more effective social media channel to enhance communication between utility companies and their customers.

SmartBridge builds upon research that shows the average household decision maker for energy use decisions also actively play online social games.  By engaging these decision makers in a gaming format, SmartBridge will modify behaviors to lead to new habits in reduced energy use for better energy conservation, sustainability and energy efficiency in the average household.  In combination with these increasingly adopted smart meter technologies, SmartBridge will enhance energy efficiency by clearly defining the link between the game and actual energy use.

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