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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

March 12, 2010 at 11:01 AM

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Social business projects win funding, get tested by pros

Posted by Kristi Heim

This year's Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition at the University of Washington had so many promising business plans that picking just two winners proved difficult. So judges did something unusual: they ponied up their own money on the spot to award another $3,000 prize.

The contest, which had 161 entries from 36 countries this year, combines business, non-profit and academic work to encourage creative solutions to global poverty.

The top winning team taking home $10,000 was Nuru Light -- Charles Ishimwe from Adventist University of Central Africa and Max Fraden of the University of Massachusetts Medical School -- who also won the GSEC People's Choice Award and Investor's Choice Award. The team created a clean and affordable alternative to kerosene as a light source in Rwanda. The portable, rechargeable lights are the size and shape of a tape measure and the charger is a portable box with a bicycle-style pedal.

The UW Global Health prize of $5,000 went to ToucHb, a non-invasive finger scanner that measures hemoglobin levels to diagnose anemia. It can be used by low-skilled village health workers in rural India and eliminates the fear and infection risks associated with a needle prick. The team is made up of two doctors from the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences -- Yogesh Patil and Abhishek Sen.

The spontaneous Judges' Choice award of $3,000 went to Malo Traders for their plan to help small-scale rice farmers in Mali earn a better living by providing storage, marketing and other post-harvest services. Team Malo is two brothers who grew up in Africa and are now studying in the U.S. -- Mohamed Ali Niang, a business student at Temple University, and Salif Romano Niang, PhD student in political science at Purdue.

On Friday, the projects were on display at a breakfast hosted by the Seattle International Foundation, where students with ideas talked to executives with funds and experience.

ToucHb got tested by PATH CEO Chris Elias, while Microsoft veterans Rob Short and Will Poole wanted details about Nuru Light's business plan. Check out the video above with winners introducing their projects.

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