With entries ranging from brainwave-actuated wheelchairs and rural sanitation, to organic dog treats and urban aquaponics, 27 student teams brought technical savvy and social entrepreneurship to this year’s Social Venture Plan Competition, held April 17 on the SPU campus. The seventh annual event attracted more than 120 participants from several different schools, each vying for the $2,500 grand prize with their ideas to improve lives.
The top project was NIA Wheel, chosen as the grand prize winner by the combined votes of more than 75 judges representing the business, nonprofit, academic, and professional community. Mbo Tek came in second, winning the $1,500 Pioneer Award. More than 600 students, faculty, staff, and guests voted for their favorite project of the afternoon; the People’s Choice award of $500 also went to NIA Wheel.
The NIA Wheel’s mission is to provide mobility for all people, regardless of disability, through a wheelchair fitted with neurological impulse actuator (NIA) technology currently used in the gaming industry. This device, powered by brain waves, enables users to move about more freely and independently. Senior engineering majors Clarence Rieu and Eric Olmsted developed a prototype wheelchair. The engineers then connected with senior business majors Jessica Way and Aryn Schatz to develop the NIA Wheel business plan. The team proposed that a number of their products be donated to veterans each year through the Wounded Warrior project, since 7 percent of spinal cord injuries in the U.S. are related to military service.
The Social Venture Plan Competition is made possible through founding sponsors the Kathleen and Scott Cummins Foundation and the Herbert B. Jones Foundation. Seattle Pacific also received sponsorship from Pioneer Human Services, Northwest Center, and Miir Bottles. The competition is managed by the Center for Applied Learning in the School of Business and Economics.