Global Social Venture Competition celebrates 20-year anniversary

Pedro Moura and Jessica Eting, both EWMBA 18, started banking services startup Flourish Savings

Pedro Moura and Jessica Eting, both EWMBA 18, started banking services startup Flourish Savings.

Pedro Moura and Jessica Eting, both EWMBA 18,  built a rewards-based online and mobile savings account designed to appeal to people who underutilize banking services. Their hard work led to the launch of startup Flourish Savings, which has now earned a place at the April 5 Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) finals.

“It takes a lot of expertise, research, and partnerships to tackle wicked problems like helping low-income and immigrant communities learn to trust banks, save money, and build credit,” Moura said. “We’re hoping that the judges will see how our idea has the potential to change the way people handle personal finance.”

The competition, which is celebrating its 20th year, will be held during the Future of Social Ventures Conference at Haas.

Flourish, along with Respira Labs, founded by Dr. Maria Artunduaga, UC Berkeley/UCSF MTM 18, Nerjada Maksutaj, MBA 20, and Nikhil Chacko, MBA/MPH 20, are the two Haas teams competing in the finals—among more than 20 global teams in this year’s competition.

L-R: Nikhil Chacko, MBA/MPH 20, Dr. Maria Artunduaga, UC Berkeley/UCSF MTM 18, and Nerjada Maksutaj, MBA 20. Photo: Yizhe Gu

L-R: Nikhil Chacko, MBA/MPH 20, Dr. Maria Artunduaga, UC Berkeley/UCSF MTM 18, and Nerjada Maksutaj, MBA 20. Photo: Yizhe Gu

A vision of a better world

GSVC has come a long way since its founding in 1999 by five MBA students—Lia Fernald, Alison Lingane, and Denise Yamamoto,  MBA 00, and Nik Dehejia and Sara Olsen, MBA 01. Their idea was to provide social entrepreneurs with mentorship, feedback, and a chance to hone their funding pitches.

Jill Erbland, GSVC’s program director, has watched the program’s number of partners and its international appeal to students grow since she arrived at Haas in 2007. This year, 11 partners hosted 12 regional semi-final events—and the competition had a record-breaking 692 applicants hailing from 67 countries. To date, GSVC has distributed more than $1 million in prize money, and helped more than 7,000 teams move closer to achieving their vision of a better world.

“In 1999, creating viable companies that had social impact was a nascent idea, even for Berkeley Haas,” Erbland said. “Our steady growth has been fueled by other universities prioritizing social impact and entrepreneurship educational programs.”

Following footsteps

The competition has launched a number of Haas student-led social impact ventures, including Indiegogo—co-founded by Danae Ringelmann and Eric Schell, MBA 08—and Revolution Foods—co-founded by Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, MBA 06.

Flourish Savings’ co-founders are hoping to follow in their footsteps. Eting, the daughter of immigrants, and Moura, an immigrant himself, met in Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman’s Applied Innovation class. They soon discovered a common interest in helping people build savings habits, reduce reliance on debt, and achieve financial security. A pilot program demonstrated that participants saved an average of $192 in the first four months of using Flourish.

This is Eting’s second GSVC event. About 10 years ago, she was an attendee and guest of her boss, who had judged one of the regional competitions. “I was in awe of the people who were pitching, and I never once imagined it’s something I would be doing,” she said.

Meantime, Respira Labs aims to help people who struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive lung disease that obstructs breathing. The team is pitching a wearable lung-function monitor that that uses audio-signal processing and machine learning to alert patients, caregivers, and doctors when inhalers, medication, or medical care is needed. The data collected could be used to predict and prevent flare-ups of COPD, which afflicts 16 million Americans, according to the CDC.

Artunduaga met her Haas colleagues at Berkeley SkyDeck. Maksutaj said her family has been affected by COPD and was quick to embrace the startup’s mission. Chacko came to the team with a passion for solving health crises in low- and middle-income countries, to which the World Health Organization (WHO) attributes 90 percent of global COPD deaths.

“GSVC’s global focus is especially important to us because our long-term ambitions go beyond the U.S.,” Chacko said.

The full conference includes more than the GSVC final presentations and judging. This year’s sessions are organized around the theme “Technology for Good,” and sessions include “The Future of Food: A Design-Thinking Session with IDEO,” “Financial Inclusion and Technology” with speakers from Mastercard and PayPal, and “The Promise and Peril of Emerging Technologies in Social Impact.”

Attendees will also be able to watch presentations from all the finalists and meet GSVC co-founder Sara Olsen, who is serving as a judge this year.

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