SVC Competition Hosts Students with Big Plans

This year's Social Venture Competition attracted students focused on improving lives through sustainable businesses around the world. Sponsored by the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance, the eighth annual competition encouraged participants to enter ventures addressing social problems.

"The SVC is about promoting sustainable businesses that are going to really make a positive impact on a community," says Melinda Wells, competition director and second-year MBA student from Cleveland, Utah. "Whether that's next door to BYU or somewhere in Africa, it really doesn't matter. You can build a sustainable business that's going to create jobs and services that will make a difference."

First place and a $10,000 cash prize went to Trano Mirary, a company three years in the making, which works to increase the availability of high-quality but affordable housing in Madagascar. It also received the audience choice award with a $3,000 cash prize at the SVC finals.

Trano Mirary will involve families in building their own homes by using pressed earth and interlocking bricks, reducing costs of construction by 50 percent. Michael O'Day, CEO and a biological science education junior from Newark, Del., says all of the prize money will go to developing the business and purchasing equipment needed in Madagascar.

"My initial reaction was disbelief. I was ecstatic when we won both the audience choice award and the competition," O'Day says. "When the time came to announce the results, I was so nervous because it wasn't just my future that would be decided but the future of my business partners in Madagascar and the people we aim to help."

Second place and $4,000 went to Achatina Snail Farms, named after the achatina snails currently in high demand for food exports in Ghana. The company helps locals become self-reliant by giving farmers a small loan, 1,000 snails and other materials to start the farm. Social media venture ServeSurfer won third place and a $1,000 cash prize. The company connects volunteers and nonprofit organizations through a Facebook platform. Runner-up and a $1,000 cash prize went to Freedom's Families Veteran Family Recreational Retreat, a company aiming to save veterans and their spouses from divorce through therapeutic recreation.

Other teams included The Social Start, Grace Café, Academy for New Economic Thinking and Action, Social Med, Sygif, TxTrade and Zaytoon, making a total of 11 teams that competed in the Social Venture Competition.

According to Wells, the businesses generally carry on after the competition is finished and do well in the process. The event is merely a diving board for successful social ventures.

"Those who have invested a lot of time into planning their businesses and have done their due diligence continue to succeed in the business world," Wells says. "The competition is only part of what they're doing rather than the end goal — it's just a way of helping them achieve their goals."

The Marriott School is located at Brigham Young University, the largest privately owned, church-sponsored university in the United States. The school has nationally recognized programs in accounting, business management, public management, information systems and entrepreneurship. The school's mission is to prepare men and women of faith, character and professional ability for positions of leadership throughout the world. Approximately 3,000 students are enrolled in the Marriott School's graduate and undergraduate programs.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Miriam Shumway