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Acara helps students become heroes

This post was originally published by Brian Bell of the Acara program. 

Acara student impact entrepreneurs —  people who have set out to solve some of the world’s stickiest problems— along with mentors, donors, friends and family came together to celebrate Acara teams, enjoy tasty Indian cuisine and listen to brief venture update presentations one evening in late September. The annual Acara Open House and Showcase highlighted the progress of the 2015 Acara Challenge winners.

The Acara Challenge is the University of Minnesota’s impact venture competition to reward student teams that are developing solutions to address global social and environmental challenges. Acara is a strategic initiative of the Institute on the Environment.

Following a meal catered by Acara alum Eat For Equity, IonE director Jessica Hellmann welcomed the 80 attendees. Here is a selection of the updates.

Eat for Equity talks to an Acara course

Ova Woman, an online retailer of women’s intimate health products, which took Gold in the 2015 Acara Challenge, won $31,000 in the MN Cup 2015 student division in September 2015. The website is live and selling a variety of products ranging from menstrual cups to absorbent underwear in order to ensure comfort and confidence for all women. Check out Ova Woman’s recent blog post here.

E-Grove, the University of Minnesota’s student-led electronic waste collection service, continues to expand collection points in on- and off-campus residential locations. E-Grove is now collecting e-waste from more than a dozen apartments and residence facilities in the Twin Cities with plans for expansion.

Eat for Equity, which is building a culture of generosity through community feasts, has continued to grow their community-focused events along with expansion of their catering business.

Jessica Hellmann gives a lecture about the Acara Open House and Showcase

Ripple team lead Anna Schulte completed an Acara Fellowship evaluating effective water marketing approaches in India in summer 2015 in collaboration with Swasti Health Resource Centre. Anna entered a master’s in public health program at UMN and is aiming to return to India in summer 2016.

Stimulight, a venture launched out of Acara’s fall 2014 Global Venture Design program, seeks to improve the quality of life in rural India through the use of clean and reliable LED lights driven by solar-powered microgrids in place of kerosene lamps. Stimulight team member Robin Walz is now pursuing an Acara Fellowship with SELCO, a solar lighting venture in India.

Autonomee, a TaskRabbit-like software product for marginalized job seekers who need career experience, is continuing to progress. It has entered talks for contract services with large development companies.

MyRain, a distributor of efficiency micro-irrigation products to smallholder farmers in India, now has 23 employees, 250 active dealers and more than 350 product offerings. It has raised more than $400,000 in equity investments and was named a 2014 MN Cup semifinalist and recipient of a $500,000 Securing Water for Food Grant.

Acara student talk with staff and faculty

Mighty Axe Hops, a grower and hub of local hops for local beer, recently completed its third growing season in Ham Lake, Minnesota. It is continuing to expand its production and distribution to craft brewers in the Midwest.

Banner image: iStock / inline photos: Brian Bell

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