Rwandan Summer Learning Opportunity Emerges First in SVC

As far away as Rwanda and as close to home as a campus coffee house, teams in the eighth annual Social Venture Challenge (SVC), hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) sought to improve lives around the world. With projects ranging from social media platforms to childcare essentials, the six unique finalists pitched their ventures to a group of well-versed judges on April 17 in hopes of securing a top prize of seed funding.

The Bell spoke with each finalist team to get a glimpse of their ventures:

First Place—Creative Communicators: Joan Ndekezi ’23, Laura Alarcon ’22 and Caleb Britton ’21

Extending their reach across the globe, the Creative Communicators team took first place by developing a summer and weekend program designed to give Rwandan secondary school students expanded, active learning opportunities in both English and their native language of Kinyarwanda.

With the winning prize, Creative Communicators plans to launch with a three-week summer program in Kigali, Rwanda, with a cohort of two students to prove their model’s viability. This will cost about $4,000, which includes the cost of supplies for students, catering, help with airfare to Rwanda and hiring a pair of tutors and a translator to assist.

“We hope to make a difference by teaching students in both languages,” the team shares. “We believe that this can grow and impact their understanding of language in general by advancing their listening, writing, reading and speaking skills, as well as nurturing their minds through creativity.”

Second Place—Granola Gear: Emma Stone ’22 and Ashley Whalen ’21

A clothing brand focused on delivering beautiful eco-conscious garments, Granola Gear sources unique articles traditionally overlooked by consumers because of wear and creates new, customized pieces using fiber arts skills to deconstruct articles and reuse materials. With the second-place prize, Granola Gear plans to invest most into marketing materials, equipment repairs, inventory and maintenance to produce more professional products for more people.

“I hope that our venture inspires people to shop more responsibly whether that means buying less, buying small or locally, or buying things made of eco-conscious materials,” says Stone. “We want people to love what they wear but also know and feel good about where those items came from and what they’re made out of!”

Third Place—Leap Up: Luckson Dambo ’22 and Matheus Ramos ’22

Landing in third place, Dambo and Ramos developed an organization that assists high school students in their search for colleges and programs, designed to meet individual needs.

The Leap Up duo plans to use their prize money to kickstart their business by creating a website that provides information about their services and collect information from potential clients. Funding will also go toward targeted ads on social media platforms.

“We recognize that talent is universal, and opportunity is not,” says Dambo. “We hope to make future aspirations a reality for all who feel lost in identifying the steps to get there. In giving high-quality college application guidance, we can get thousands of students from undeserved areas to and through college, then their next 50 years just improved significantly.”

Finalist—Octopod: Jessica Guan ’21 and Adam Hall ’21

This social app is designed to create friendships and foster a college community. Colleges can buy subscriptions for their own unique digital social hub, and all students and alumni can access free accounts through their college emails. Requiring a school email address ensures security and connects people within the community.

“We hope to be instrumental in helping people overcome their social anxiety about meeting new people and mitigate some of the stress involved in juggling the various expectations and responsibilities of a healthy and fulfilling social life,” says Guan.

Finalist—Baby Stork: Daeho “Peter” Lee ’22, Ammi Velez ’22 and Kennedy McDonald ’24

This subscription-based business caters to families with babies by sending customizable boxes at each phase of an infant’s life—and benefits another life, too. With a buy-one-give-one model, a second box is given to a family in need with the purchase of each box.

“We hope that our venture can make a positive difference in young families’ lives, as well as provide education and awareness to the difficulties that young families face,” says McDonald.

Finalist—The Refill: Kari Holcomb ’21, Griffin Towle ’21 and Olivia Gagnon ’21  

A coffee house on Gordon’s campus centered around coffee, conversation and Christ, this coffee house would be a place for small groups, worship, prayer and conversation. Its role as a central spot for activities and events on campus would further unify the Gordon College community.

 “We hope to make an impact in the lives of both students and staff for the here and now as well as in years to come,” says Holcomb. “The heartbeat behind this vision is to see a space where students can flourish in community, fellowship, worship and prayer, all while enjoying a good cup of coffee. In the very nature of gathering, we see students from all pockets around campus gathering, sharing life together and growing in relationships, with a single heartbeat focus: being reoriented back to the Lord.”

By Alexander Bishop ’24, communication arts