Earlham competition to offer $40K in seed capital for world-changing business ideas | Earlham College Skip to Content
Zoya Abbas '20, left, and Josie Burton '20 hope to be the next Earlhamites to make an impact through Earlham’s latest social entrepreneurship initiative.

Earlham competition to offer $40K in seed capital for world-changing business ideas

February 03, 2017

A new business plan competition at Earlham College will award up to $40,000 in seed capital to area college students with world-changing ideas. 

The Earlham Prize for Creative Capitalism is an annual business incubator with a focus on innovation, social entrepreneurship and collaboration. The inaugural competition, which culminates with a final round of judged presentations on April 8, features teams comprised of students from Earlham, Indiana University East, Ivy Tech Community College and the Purdue Polytechnic Institute.

“We call it creative capitalism because it focuses on people, planet and profit. All three,” says Gene Hambrick, Earlham’s executive in residence and the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“We want participants to create business plans to do well by doing good in the world,” he says. “Part of the Earlham mission is to prepare morally sensitive leaders and this is helping us reinforce that mission by preparing that special kind of leader to serve future generations. The world can use a lot of them.”

The EPIC advantage

The Prize is one of the flagship initiatives supported by the Earlham Plan for Integrative Collaboration (EPIC), a comprehensive program that builds on Earlham’s historic strengths in collaborative learning, off-campus study and interdisciplinary education.

The program encourages students and faculty from different majors to work together in teams on innovative solutions to real world problems. The program grew out of the notion that problems like climate change, hunger, the spread of infectious diseases or social injustice can rarely be solved by an individual or even a single academic discipline.

The competition will also help Earlham serve a growing number of students already pursuing funding for social ventures or peace-building initiatives across the world. Last year, four Earlhamites won $1 million from the Hult International Business School and the Clinton Global Initiative to launch a venture that is optimizing public transportation in Kenya. Another team from Earlham advanced to a regional competition in San Francisco as part of this year's Hult Prize competition.

Earlhamites have also had success in obtaining grants through both Earlham and the Davis Projects for Peace program that have resulted in the development of community centers in Nepal, anti-bullying initiatives in Kenya and workshops promoting non-violent strategies in Tibetan schools in India.

14 world-changing ideas

Josie Burton ’20 and Zoya Abbas '20 hope to be the next Earlhamites to make an impact through Earlham’s latest social entrepreneurship initiative.

“I had never heard of the concept of social entrepreneurship before,” Burton says of the competition. “It’s a business where you empower people in developing countries as customers, not through charitable giving. That was attractive to me because of the experiences I had on a mission trip to Haiti.”

Two summers ago, Burton traveled to Port-au-Prince and immediately recognized the lack of trees on hilltops overlooking the capital city. She saw first hand how deforestation was impacting the economy, particularly in the availability of charcoal, the country’s primary source for power. 

“Just plant more trees, right?” Burton says of one possible solution. “That’s not very realistic for the immediate future, but it got me scrambling and thinking, ‘what can I do with this?’”

After returning to her Fort Wayne, Ind., home, Burton shared her experiences in Haiti with her father, who works for a state energy agency. Together they conceived of a process that would convert human and animal waste into a different kind of energy source — methane gas.

“This idea can provide accessibility at the community level in Haiti for an alternative energy source,” Burton says. “We would take the waste system already existing and offer a more accessible option to each community. The alternate input system will allow fecal matter to enter a digester, ultimately making methane gas produced by bacterial decomposition.

“The gas is a groundbreaking opportunity for those living in rural communities in Haiti,” she says. “They can save a significant amount of their daily income while reducing the environmental pressures around them.”

Burton’s team is among 14 competing for the Prize, which is comprised of three rounds of judged competition. For Burton, winning the $20,000 grand prize is an opportunity to return to Haiti and field-test her business idea. Smaller prizes are given to other participants with promising proposals.

Other teams have designed proposals that would alleviate hunger in communities nearby campus through a food security program; develop creative minds through STEM education; enhance medical services for refugees; and launch innovative transportation and overnight childcare services for working parents.


Upcoming competitions: Cameo Round, Saturday, Feb. 11, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Earlham College Landrum Bolling Center Richmond Room; Final Round, Saturday, April 8, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Earlham College, Location TBD

 'Ideas can come from anywhere'

Judges for this year's competition include Mark Gaines, major gift officer at Earlham; Cal Simpson, lecturer of marketing and entrepreneurship and director of New Castle Business Programs at IU East; Joe Henry, manager of existing business and education at the Wayne County Economic Development Corp.; Scott Underwood, a business advisor at the Indiana Small Business Development Center; and Scott Zimmerman, the executive director at Center City Development Corp.

Hambrick says the Prize purposefully combines Earlham's commitment to both integrative education and collaboration with the Richmond community. 

“Ideas can come from everywhere, but how do you solve the big, wicked problems of the world? Integrative collaboration!” he says. “This competition is a cross collaboration of solving local and global problems through this unique business plan competition. It manifests everything that EPIC is all about. It incorporates student, faculty and community partners and encourages economic growth both locally and in communities across the world.”

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.



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