The end of September saw an unusual, early evening gathering at the Verizon Suite in Reading. Yes, several Verizon employees were there – but so too was the deputy mayor of Reading, along with representatives from local schools, businesses and educational establishments. They were all there for the final of the Verizon Unloc Enterprise Challenge, to hear the five finalists pitch their idea, and see the winner crowned.
The Unloc Enterprise Challenge, sponsored by Verizon, was launched on April 23, 2018. The Challenge invited budding entrepreneurs aged 16-25 to submit their start-up business concept in the hope of winning £5,000 of funding, a mentorship package and a technology bundle to help get their business off the ground.
The Reading event marked the culmination of six months of hard work by the budding entrepreneurs! Video entries from all across Europe had been whittled down to five potential winners, all of whom were invited to pitch their idea ‘live’ in front of the specially invited audience, and four judges. I was lucky enough to be one of those judges, alongside my Verizon colleague, David Wilsher; Charlie Oliver from One Young World; and Ben Dowling from Unloc itself.
The five finalists pitching last week were:
- Wassim El Hariri (SASHA): SASHA (Smart Autonomous System for Hospital Assistance) is the first mobile robot in the world that is able to fully automate food distribution in hospitals giving each patient the correct meal on time. With existing mobile robots introduced into healthcare you need to manually load the goods and then manually unload them at the station when the robot travels from point to point. However, SASHA's unique design and concept creates a robot that can automate the picking, placing and distribution of meals.
- Alison Wood (Lilypads): Lilypads strives to end period poverty and stigma by providing affordable reusable sanitary pads and education to communities in Kenya. The social enterprise sells reusable sanitary pads to local communities in Homa Bay and provides empowering menstrual health education to school girls. The pads are produced in Nairobi enabling the cost of the pads to be kept as low as possible. A pack of pads lasts 2 years and is thus 1/6th of the price of disposables on the market. Pads are therefore accessible and provide a long term, environmentally sustainable solution. Lilypads offers a simple solution to a monumental issue and aims to ensure that no one feels isolated or endangered as a result of their period.
- Shwetal Shah (Erase All Kittens): E.A.K. is a revolutionary, online game that gives kids aged 8-14 knowledge of both computational thinking and professional coding languages, to effectively prepare them for 21st Century degrees and careers. E.A.K. has a huge focus on creativity - after all there’s not much point in students learning to code if they aren’t going to create! The aim is to bridge the gap that exists between learning the concepts of coding and being able to apply practical knowledge in a creative way.
- Ben Normal (BREWED): BREWED is a liquid tea concept that brings added health benefits due to the unique way in which its tea is prepared. BREWED was developed to prevent the unnecessary overuse of tea leaves in tea bag production, and its waste products are also recycled and used as fertilizer.
- Danielle Connor (Pocket Pals): Pocket Pals is an app that connects people with wildlife and the environment through their mobile phones. The app utilises GPS on mobile devices, allowing players to walk and locate digital animals. Through the excitement of exploring and tracking animated animals, users will learn how to identify and classify British fauna, from quirky Pine martens to less known but equally marvellous animals such as the Sunfish. Pocket Pals aims to engage young people with wildlife with a free-to-play app featuring charismatic virtual animals based on the wildlife of Britain.
And the winner was…. Lilypads! All of the judges felt that Lilypads was a great fit for all 4 key judging criteria (creativity, sustainability, viability), and also felt that the prize money would have instant impact.
Alison Wood of Lilypads said: “I was so surprised when I heard I’d won! There was stiff competition from the other finalists, all of whom had great ideas. This prize money will enable us to fulfil an existing order from a school in Kenya, and will also support us as we work to expand our business.”
Verizon has a long history of supporting innovation. Through Humanability, a mission that aims to give humans the ability to do more in this world, Verizon partners with visionaries all over the globe who use technology and data to turn innovative ideas into reality. In the United States, the transformative program called Verizon Innovative Learning provides free technology, free internet access, and hands-on learning experiences to help give under-resourced students the education they deserve and to prepare them for a tech-dependent economy. In addition, the Verizon 5G Labs work with companies of all sizes to bring their non-traditional connected solutions to market. This new relationship with Unloc has brought this focus on innovation to Europe, with the competition designed to promote self-development, technology and entrepreneurship skills amongst young people.
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