Four engineering students took top honors at the 2nd annual Villanova Social Entrepreneurship Competition (VSEC) on April 2. The University-wide competition fosters a sense of entrepreneurship and ethics in a social context as students are asked to create unique business plans with a service element. This year’s winning team included four engineering students, two nursing students, and one business student: Peter Shaw EE ’11, Andrew Robinson EE ’11, Brendan McCoy EE ’11, Craig Baumer CpE ’11, Katherine Weatherbie BSN ’11, Caitlin Krenek BSN ’11, and Derek Ferguson VSB ’11.
As the winners, the team received $10,000 in prize money from Halloran Philanthropies to fund the implementation of their project, Nova Mobile Health, which seeks to bring healthcare services to remote, impoverished villages that have limited access to modern technology. Their plan provides healthcare workers without formal medical training with cell phones to text patient conditions to a central server on a computer in the closest town. The computer then creates a record for all patients, so that trained physicians can review them and prescribe a course of treatment or care. This service helps villagers avoid making the long, expensive, and sometimes dangerous trip to the main hospital unnecessarily.
“I have gained a lot from this entire experience,” says McCoy. “After having the opportunity to make two trips to Nicaragua, this project means more to me than just winning a competition. I have seen, firsthand, what poor conditions these people endure in their small villages in other parts of the world. It means so much to me to be able to help the people that I met by improving their healthcare resources. We hope to see positive results from our texting system, especially in lowering the rates of maternal and infant mortality due to pre-ecclampsia.”
Starting with the rural communities of the jungle region in Waslala, Nicaragua, the group of students began to test their prototype after placing second in last year’s competition and winning $1,500 in prize money. They spent this past year improving their business plan and ensuring that their project properly and clearly demonstrated their "value proposition,” which VSEC judges look for to show what the idea offers various stakeholders, including investors, customers, and community members.
“The VSEC competition provides a wonderful learning experience for engineering students to work in multidisciplinary teams, develop complex technical and business designs, and present their ideas before a distinguished group of world-class entrepreneurs,” says Edmond Dougherty, Visiting Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Interim Director of the Engineering Entrepreneurship Minor. “In the larger picture, to be globally competitive, all future engineers not only need to have technical skills, but also need to understand how their work affects others. Villanova engineers will distinguish themselves because they will be expected to go even further – they will be leaders, expected to ‘do good works’ through their companies, for their customers, and for society,”
VSEC was founded in 2009 by Ronald Warzoha ME’08, MSME ‘09 and current Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Engineering, and Timothy Montalbano ME ’08, MSME ‘10, and continues to operate today in tandem with the Beyond Ideas: The Art of Entrepreneurship group on campus. This year, the competition attracted 26 student entries, twice the number from the first year. A generous gift by Halloran Philanthropies has more than doubled all grant money to be awarded to the finalists, while the addition of in-kind legal, marketing, content management, performance management, and IP specialist services gives the winning team the opportunity to advance their idea to the start-up stage of development.