Amy Helgeson and Biel Wiel present during the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge in Schulze Hall on April 22, 2022, in Minneapolis.
Amy Helgeson '22 (l) and Biel Wiel '22 emcee the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge awards ceremony on April 22. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge Makes In-Person Debut

For the first time since it was launched in 2019, the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge (Fowler GSIC) Campus Finals were held in person.

During the April 22 event on the Minneapolis campus, eight St. Thomas teams competed for $11,000 in cash prizes.

The top two teams, UWell and ECON Habitat Project, won an all-expenses-paid trip to San Diego, where they will compete in June at the Fowler GSIC Global Finals. In San Diego, the teams will vie for a share of an additional seed funding pool of $75,000.

  • UWell ($3,000 winner): UWell is a comprehensive app for university students that offers resources, education and connection unique to their specific mental health needs. It focuses on deep personalization and building mental wellness into the daily lives of college students. Team: Carter Rieckhoff ’24 (entrepreneurship) and Chloe Ginkel ’24 (entrepreneurship).

“All of this hard work over the past few months – pouring our heart and soul into this idea – has really been a journey and such a great learning process,” Rieckhoff said. “I can’t wait to continue that in San Diego.”

  • ECON Habitat Project ($3,000 winner; also $500 for best presenter): The ECON Habitat Project is a housing development company that works in tandem with the government to provide renewable eco-friendly low-income housing to those who need it. The company aims to solve the housing crisis while cleaning up port cities by transforming used sea-freight shipping containers into beautiful modern designed houses. Team: Delila Gonyea ’23 (entrepreneurship and sustainability), Erik Anderson ’22 (entrepreneurship and real estate) and Xander Smaby ’22 (finance and entrepreneurship). The team also includes two students from Harvard University: John Zheng ’22 (real estate and strategic management) and Annabel Cho ’23 (engineering sciences/biomedical engineering and electrical engineering).

Each team in the multi-round competition engaged with one or more of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, ranging from ending hunger by promoting sustainable agriculture to achieving gender equality, building resilient infrastructure, combating climate change, and providing access to justice for all.

“In addition to being in person, what is energizing about this event is that these students are looking at the world outside of our four walls and are trying to grapple with pressing social problems using compassion, courage and creativity,” Schulze School of Entrepreneurship Associate Dean Laura Dunham said.

Laura Dunham, Associate Dean Schulze School of Entrepreneurshi, speaks during the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge in Schulze Hall on April 22, 2022, in Minneapolis.
Laura Dunham, associate dean of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, speaks during the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge in Schulze Hall on April 22 in Minneapolis. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

The eight teams at the Fowler GSIC Campus Finals included 15 students representing 10 majors across the university.

Runner-up teams each took home $2,000. They included CleanAir (Erik Anderson ’22, entrepreneurship and real estate; and Ben Frey ’22, physics, computer science and entrepreneurship) and West Metro Solutions (John Costello ’25, entrepreneurship). Local4Local (Hao Taing ’22, general management; and Jamie Tjornehoj ’22, journalism and business administration) received the other $500 best presenter award.

Before the winners were announced, President Julie Sullivan spoke at the awards ceremony.

“This is really about nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit within our students. It’s about cultivating their passion for making a difference in the world,” Sullivan said. “[This competition] is about giving them real-world experience of advancing the common good – real-world experience of changemaking – which is in our DNA at St. Thomas.”

To support the eight teams and all student participants, the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship hosted several workshops and mentoring sessions. Sixteen mentors and judges volunteered their time for the preliminary round of competition. Seven additional finalist judges made up of local businesspeople and social entrepreneurs judged the St. Thomas Campus Finals.

The Fowler GSIC is named in recognition of Ron Fowler ’66, chairman and CEO of Liquid Investments Inc., whose gifts to the university have made the competition and collaboration with the University of San Diego possible.

The Global Finals, taking place June 13-18, expects 60-plus teams from 34 universities and 17 countries. It will be hosted by the University of San Diego, which alternates hosting annually with St. Thomas.