Students dancing on stairs.
Students dance into the Fowler Global Social Innovation Global Finals. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

Student Social Entrepreneurs Compete, Network and Learn at St. Thomas

Thirty-one teams composed of 80 students from 22 universities and nine countries converged on the University of St. Thomas Minneapolis campus June 15-17 to win a share of more than $76,000 in seed funding at the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge (Fowler GSIC) Global Finals.

Both St. Thomas teams, B-Care Wood Pellet and Chemco, progressed to the finals round, with B-Care Wood Pellet taking third place overall.

B-Care Wood Pellet seeks to improve the livelihoods of women in Ethiopia and most developing countries who carry heavy wood because of the lack of modern energy sources, by manufacturing and supplying wood pellets as a better alternative.

Beamlak Petros ’26 pitches B-Care Wood Pellet at the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge (Fowler GSIC) Global Finals. (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

Chemco reclaims raw materials from lithium-ion batteries in a sustainable and efficient manner, redirecting them from landfills, rivers and main ecological systems to tools for bettering the environment.

This is the second time that St. Thomas has hosted the event, a joint venture with the University of San Diego (USD) designed to increase the scope and scale of social entrepreneurship ecosystem at their respective universities and beyond. The Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas and the Center for Peace and Commerce at USD alternate hosting the Global Finals each year.

“The Schulze School of Entrepreneurship was incredibly honored to host this year’s Fowler GSIC. While hosting virtually in 2021 was a great experience, there is something special about having folks come together in person,” Director of the Institute for Social Innovation at St. Thomas Billy Mzenga said. “One of our taglines for the challenge was that it was ‘more than a pitch competition.’”

A balloon sign for the Fowler GSIC Global Finals. (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

In addition to pitching, students also attended informative workshops, visited local social impact businesses, and sampled a selection of treats from local food and drink social businesses while learning from their founders.

“I heard from several attendees and judges that they left the competition feeling incredibly inspired by the students who competed,” Mzenga said. “What an honor it is to curate a space where thoughtful, global changemakers could meet one another and take another step toward refining their concepts.”

Each team in the multi-round competition leading up to the Global Finals 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.

All global finalists placed among the top two teams at their respective universities.

The winners included:

  • Changemaker Award winner ($25,000) – Elythea, Brown University
  • Changemaker Award second place ($15,000) – Nutri-Win, Soka University of America
  • Changemaker Award third place ($10,000) – B-Care Wood Pellet, University of St. Thomas
  • SDG3 Good Health and Well-being Award winner ($5,000) – Elythea, Brown University
  • SDG3 Good Health and Well-being Award second place ($2,500) – OnPoint Ventilation, Johns Hopkins University
  • Women Innovators Award ($2,000) – Fungi Vitae, University of Texas at Austin
  • Audience Choice Award ($1,000) – Aquarius, Université de Sherbrooke
  • An additional $15,500 was awarded for Idea Grant, Instagram Challenge and preliminary pitch round.

Learn more about the winners in the Fowler GSIC Global Finals program.

Ron Fowler ’66 (r) at the Fowler GSIC Global Finals. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

The program provides an unparalleled opportunity for student social entrepreneurs to join a network of global innovators while competing for vital seed funding. Students not only are able to showcase their own outstanding ideas, but they can also listen and learn from peers from every corner of the globe. In addition to pitching to industry leaders and receiving valuable feedback, participating teams take part in panel discussions and workshops on topics ranging from building a board of advisers to the role social businesses can play in diversity, equity and inclusion.

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 possible.