Competitive Advantage

Want to boost student interest in social entrepreneurship? Direct them to a competition that seeks creative solutions to intractable social problems. While many schools run internal competitions, a growing number of events are open to teams from all over the world. Here’s a look at three.

Competitive Advantage

Global Case Challenge

SPONSORING SCHOOL: Hult International Business School, Boston, Massachusetts; San Francisco, California; London, England; Dubai, UAE; and Shanghai, China
PRIZES: Hult will donate US$1 million to help a chosen nonprofit implement the winning team’s solution. 
ELIGIBILITY: Open to all university and college students around the world. The expectation is that about 100 five-person teams will participate annually.
HOW IT WORKS: Each year, the competition focuses on a specific global social challenge. The 2011 event is a partnership with, which facilitates small loans for projects that will improve water and sanitation access in developing countries. Like the Global Case Challenge, is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI); it was co-founded by Gary White and Matt Damon.

Teams first compete at the regional level, and they have the option of participating at any of the school’s five locations. Winners from that round go on to New York City for an all-expense paid trip to the final round, which is co-hosted by CGI.

Because so many teams wanted to enter the 2011 competition, the school added an online branch of the competition, open to all past, present, and future college and university students worldwide. The online winner, chosen by votes on YouTube as well as judges’ input, joined other regional winners at the final event in New York City.
RECENT WINNER: The 2010 competition benefited One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), which sells computers to the governments of developing nations, which then distribute the laptops to schoolchildren. But different countries, and different end users, have widely divergent needs for software and other computer applications.

Therefore, the winning team in the 2010 competition proposed that OLPC open source its software and hardware and build an app store to create sustainable local marketplaces for affordable laptops and educational software. Members of the winning team included five students from Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Sandy Parakilas, Ayshwarya Subramanian, Logan Powell, Rekha Bhatt, and Bharani Rajakumar.

Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition

SPONSORING SCHOOL: Foster School of Business, University of Washington, Seattle
PRIZES: US$38,500 in prize money, which includes a US$12,500 grand prize and a US$10,000 prize in information and communication technology. Another US$10,000 is awarded to the plan that best addresses health and healthcare in disadvantaged communities.
ELIGIBILITY: Open to students enrolled at any academic institution of higher learning worldwide. Multidisciplinary student teams are encouraged.

HOW IT WORKS: Student teams must create an innovative social business plan that seeks to alleviate a problem of poverty in a developing economy. Plans must clearly demonstrate social return on investment (SROI), financial sustainability, and feasibility of implementation. Applications go through two rounds of review before semifinalists are selected and paired with mentors. Up to 15 teams of semifinalists travel to Seattle for GSEC Week in February, where they are exposed to global companies, leading research institutions, and representatives from the international development sector.
DEADLINE: November
RECENT WINNER: Sanergy, this year’s grand prize winner, was co-founded by David Auerbach and Anirudh Vallabhaneni, both graduate students at MIT Sloan School of Management. They formed the company to address the lack of access to basic sanitation for 2.6 billion people worldwide. Currently focused on the slums of Kenya, Sanergy has plans to deploy low-cost, waterless toilets throughout the area using a micro-franchise model. Waste will be collected daily and transported to a processing facility for conversion to electricity and fertilizer. To learn more about Sanergy, follow their company blog at

Global Social Venture Competition

SPONSORING SCHOOL: Managing partner University of California Berkeley; regional partners Columbia Business School in New York City, London Business School, the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, Thammasat University in Bangkok, ESSEC Business School in France, and the Social Enterprise Network in Korea.
YEAR STARTED: 1999 (as the National Social Venture Competition, launched by five Berkeley MBAs)
PRIZES: The top three prizes for blended value plans are US$25,000, US$10,000, and US$5,000; there is also a US$5,000 prize in social impact assessment.
ELIGIBILITY: Each team must include an active member who is a graduate student or recent graduate from any business school in the world.

The GSVC competition supports the creation of real businesses that will bring about sustainable change. Nearly a quarter of past entrants are now operating companies.

HOW IT WORKS: The goal of the competition is to support the creation of real businesses that will bring about sustainable change; it annually receives close to 900 business plan entries from around the globe. Regional partners host the early rounds of the GSVC, then the top 12 blended value and top five social impact assessment plans compete in the Global Finals held at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. At Berkeley, the GSVC is organized by a team of MBA students with support and sponsorship from the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship. Nearly a quarter of past GSVC entrants are now operating companies.
RECENT WINNER: In 2010, the top prize went to Stanford University’s Re: Motion Designs team, which aimed to develop high-performance, low-cost prosthetics for the 20 million amputees who live in developing countries. Its initial product, the JaipurKnee, is a knee joint that can be manufactured for less than US$20. It is currently in field trials in India.

Last year’s Social Impact Assessment Prize was awarded to WE CARE Solar, founded by Berkeley MBA students. WE CARE (Women’s Emergency Communication and Reliable Electricity) Solar provides reliable electricity to obstetric healthcare facilities in low-resource settings with the goal of reducing some of the 500,000 maternal deaths worldwide caused by pregnancy-related complications. WE CARE Solar has developed and field-tested the Solar Suitcase, a user-friendly, portable, plug-and-play solar-electric system.