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Three teams recently received $4,000 total in funding from ChangeWorks, a competition for early-stage social entrepreneurship ventures.
The competition, which is administered by the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, was open to undergraduates and graduate students. Eighteen teams applied, and six were chosen as finalists.
The finalists pitched their ideas to a panel of judges, receiving help from volunteer mentors along the way.
Denali Dahl, who will graduate with her master of science in global health in May, took home the first place prize of $2,500 for her point-of-care early diagnostic test for preeclampsia.
The project sprung from a biomedical engineering course Dahl took last spring. In the course, students were partnered with university students in Uganda, who identified health issues they wanted to solve.
Because women in Uganda often don’t have regular access to prenatal care, preeclampsia is a widespread issue. The symptoms of preeclampsia can often be mistaken for common pregnancy symptoms, and it can lead to organ failure and other complications.
Dahl and her two co-founders are creating an early diagnostic strip that is a home-based test. Dahl’s goal is to empower and educate women so they know when to seek medical care before preeclampsia becomes severe.
After securing funding from ChangeWorks, which was the project’s initial funding, Dahl’s team received more good news. They won first place in the global health category of UC Berkeley’s Big Ideas competition, giving them an additional $10,000 in funding.
The team was also invited to participate in UC Berkeley’s Grand Prize Pitch Day, where they could receive even more funding.
The funding will help with a clinical study that Dahl’s co-founders are currently conducting in Uganda, as well as help Dahl create a prototype of the device in partnership with local point-of-care diagnostics company BioMedomics.
“We’ve been putting together the pieces for a long time, and it’s exciting to see the idea start to become a reality,” Dahl said.
Working on the project has taught Dahl the power of collaboration. Working with her teammates in Uganda has allowed her to leverage resources and mentorship from both countries to create a product that is contextually relevant.
The $1,000 second place ChangeWorks winner was Tim Scales, an MBA student who will graduate next month and co-founder of advocacy mobile app CivicRise.
Scales got the idea for CivicRise in the buildup to the 2016 election, when he was seeing many different calls to action on social media but never knew which information was trustworthy or up-to-date.
With CivicRise, users can subscribe to advocacy organizations they know and trust through the app, which will send alerts when action needs to be taken. The action can then be completed through the app, allowing users to track their progress and receive rewards as they continue to be engaged.
CivicRise is already live on the app store, and the funding will help Scales and his team figure out the best way to pull advocacy data and package it for organizations.
Scales said that Changeworks was the perfect setting to work on his idea because of its focus on social entrepreneurship and its judges and mentors who asked the right questions.
The Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative has also been involved in helping with CivicRise since day one, Scales said. With the space, resources and mentorship he’s received, he’s been able to transform it from a rough idea into a product that’s now live on the App Store.
The third place prize of $500 went to Robert Fitzpatrick for his project Reef Defense Systems.
All six teams that presented were strong, said Katherine Black, Duke I&E’s program coordinator for social innovation and entrepreneurship.
“In my five years working at Duke, this was the first competition I have ever seen where each presentation was truly well thought out and executed,” she said. “Every venture idea that was pitched had potential.”