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How One Initiative Is Enlisting Entrepreneurs To Do Good In the World

Presented by the Columbia University School of Professional Studies (SPS) and the School’s Career Design Lab with the support and collaboration of the Beba Foundation, the annual Greater Good Challenge offers teams of Columbia University students and alumni from across the globe the opportunity to submit business proposals spotlighting new products, technologies, and services that positively impact the environment and address current global and societal needs.

Participants form teams and present their proposals to a live audience before awaiting the judges’ feedback. Proposals can cover various topics, including responses to climate change, transformative technologies, accessible health care, financial literacy, advocacy, and emergency preparedness and response.

During the virtual event in December 2023, 10 teams presented their ideas to an audience of nearly 500 people representing 14 countries. This past February, teams that competed in the Greater Good Challenge were invited to showcase their projects to employers, peers, and venture capitalists at the Career Design Lab’s Entrepreneur & Innovator Showcase.

Kriash, a medical technology start-up, took home the top prize in the 2023 Greater Good Challenge for its NeoSense Wireless Medical Device, which uses technology to enhance the health outcomes of premature babies by promoting skin-to-skin contact.

Sixteen teams have received prize money from the Greater Good Challenge since its launch in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic to provide entrepreneurs with a platform to introduce innovative, applicable, and sustainable solutions.

Several previous winners have seen their GGC projects succeed far beyond the competition. For instance, winners of the 2020 GGCmicroTERRA, a food tech company, have raised $2.6 million in funding. Logista, a logistics solution that won the challenge in 2021, received a $100,000 award last December from Village Capital, a nonprofit that supports seed-stage start-ups.

This year’s winners—Hollis (Yao) Chen, Neetika Ashwani, Rachel Febriana, Safeyah Alshemali, and Shubhi Kesarwani of the Kriash team—took home the $10,000 top prize.

“The SPS Greater Good Challenge was a transformative experience for our team,” Neetika Ashwani says. “The mentorship and guidance we received was instrumental in shaping our approach and refining our ideas. Winning the challenge was a reminder that no idea is too small when fueled by passion and a drive for positive change.”

Argonauts Tech came in second place for Polyexter, a polyester alternative that reduces carbon emissions, saves water, and minimizes landfill waste. The team was formed by Elsa Johnson, Shivalika Rana, Sandra Kristanto, Kavya Batra, Kareena Shah, and their coach, Mary Palmieri. CareHome Health Solutions took home third place for a product aimed at helping caregivers provide better patient care. The team was made up of Aaron Trelease, Andrew Au, and Nicholas Leung, who were coached by Kevin Bluer.

The Coffee Elf team was the Audience Choice winner award. The team members were Yunuo(Helen) Zhang, Ruisi (Iris) Li, Bote Zhou, Qianqian Jiang, and Zihan Wang. Coffee Elf  is the only upcycling company in the U.S. that has revolutionized sustainability by turning used coffee grounds into customizable branded merchandise, offering profitable waste management solutions for coffee shops.

Karen Acampado, assistant director at the Career Design Lab and team lead for the 2023 Greater Good Challenge, said the competition “has been an extraordinary experience, filled with moments of inspiration, resilience, and growth.”

“Together, we’ve not only fostered innovation but also forged connections that transcend borders and boundaries,” she said. “It was incredible to witness the passion and creativity of the participating teams. From the outset, it was evident that this was more than just a competition; it was a catalyst for change!”