HomeEducationAcaraCommunity-based silos and a solution for power scarcity take top prizes at the Acara Challenge

Community-based silos and a solution for power scarcity take top prizes at the Acara Challenge

Every year, the Acara Challenge shines a spotlight on University of Minnesota students with ideas that could change the world. This year’s winners are no exception.

In its seventh year, the annual venture competition is open to students of any major from all U of M campuses, and projects may be in any state of development. This year’s top prize winners, announced on March 1, included a community-based silo project in partnership with rural farmers in Nicaragua and a healthcare technology company driven to help developing economies overcome power scarcity.

Depósito de Confianza took the top prize in the competition’s undergraduate division. Sophomore Robyn Thompson (College of Liberal Arts) is leading the project, which aims to increase income security for rural farmers in Nicaragua by offering community-based silos. This will allow farmers to store their grain instead of being forced to sell their product immediately after harvest time when the price is lowest. (The project was initially developed by an interdisciplinary student team in the fall 2017 Grand Challenge Course “Global Venture Design: What Impact Will You Have?”)

The winner of the graduate division was Aelios Technology, which developed a device that will mitigate the effects of power scarcity in the healthcare sector of developing economies. The project is a partnership among Sourav Patel, Saurav Talukdar, and Shreyas Bhaban of the College of Science and Engineering, and Atul Fotedar of the Carlson School of Management. Their device, IPlugD, will help hospitals extend the duration of services from power backup supplies by redirecting at least 30 percent power from the non-critical devices to more critical ones.

Both Deposito de Confianza and Aelios Technology are working with community partners to develop their ideas – which is theme among this year’s field of entries. All  six competition winners have done extensive research with community members who are affected by the problem their project aims to address, and five of the winners are working in partnership with an existing organization.

“Creating sustained impact is an important element of the overall Acara philosophy,” says Acara Director Fred Rose. “Developing these relationships is critical to both the human-centered design process that these students are using to create viable plans and to making long-lasting impact.”

The challenge’s gold winners receive up to $5,000 in fellowship funding; the silver winners receive up to $3,000; and the bronze winners receive up to $2,000. Fellowship funding helps students pay for the costs of piloting their solutions. However, the real prize for the winners is the network of support that Acara has to offer. From being paired with a mentor to further training opportunities, winners receive long-term support to see their projects through.

The 2018 Acara Challenge winners are…

Undergraduate Division

Gold Winner: Depósito de Confianza offers community-based silos to farmers in rural Nicaragua to increase farmer income security because there is high market volatility for crops. Robyn Thompson, College of Liberal Arts, BA Political Science 2020

Silver Winner: Educowtion meets the nutritional needs of pastoralist children in northern Uganda during the dry season in the context of their traditional livelihood. Abigail Knoble, College of Biological Sciences, BS Biology 2019; Maria Soroka, CBS, BS Neuroscience 2018

Bronze Winner: uGIS delivers a collaborative and interdisciplinary focus on complex environmental problems through a geospatial lens by providing GIS information to underserved communities in Karamoja, Uganda. Clarissa Cole, College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, BS Environmental Science, Policy, and Management 2018; Dylan Duerre, CBS, BS Genetics, Cell Biology and Development 2019; Katharine Young, CBS, BS Microbiology 2019

Graduate Division

Gold Winner: Aelios Technology’s mission is to mitigate the adverse effects of power scarcity in the healthcare sector to help save lives in developing economies by their Intelligent Plug for Devices (IPlugD). Sourav Patel, College of Science and Engineering, PhD student, Electrical Engineering 2019; Saurav Talukdar, CSE, PhD Candidate, Mechanical Engineering 2018; Shreyas Bhaban, CSE, PhD Candidate, Electrical Engineering 2018; Atul Fotedar, Carlson School of Management, MBA candidate 2019

Silver Winner: La Sante Naturelle: In a developing country where the lack of food and money is the problem, moringa oleifera, or the Miracle Tree, might be the answer. Isaac Giron, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Masters of Development Practice 2018

Bronze Winner: Wings of the Night depletes mosquito-borne transmission rates utilizing natural predation from bats while empowering the local community by providing education and reducing financial burdens. Tyler Vogel, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Master of Development Practice 2019

Crowd Favorites

At the March 1 competition, the audience voted for their favorite venture based on each team’s two-minute presentation. The venture with the most votes in each division won a $500 cash prize. The audience chose the following teams:

Aelios Technology (Graduate Division)

Depósito de Confianza (Undergraduate Division)

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