Students from OSU win Oregon Social Business Challenge, in front of Nobel Prize winner and 1,000 state leaders

A team of students from Oregon State University won today’s first ever Oregon Social Business Challenge, held at the Oregon Convention Center, with their proposal, STAR Sports, which will establish a sports league for students with disabilities in Benton County.

Judged by Oregon leaders from business, education and nonprofit sectors, seventeen teams of  college students from all seven Oregon University System institutions and Reed College presented their social business plans in front of visiting Nobel Peace Prize winner, Professor Muhammad Yunus, and 1,000 Oregonians from across the state.

The OSU STAR Sports team will receive business support to get their company off the ground at the Portland State University Social Business Incubator, and will share $5,000 in scholarships. Second and third place teams, University of Oregon which proposed the Oregon Community Health Van, and Southern Oregon University which proposed Southern Oregon Aquaponics, will each split $3,000 and $2,000, respectively, in scholarship funds.

Earlier this spring, Professor Yunus, considered the “father” of microcredit” and author of “Banker to the Poor,” challenged colleges and universities from across the country to convene 1,000 people and as many student teams as possible to use the social business model to find solutions to the most pressing social and community issues in the state, promising his attendance at the event. The Oregon University System took up the challenge as a way to show, not just tell, how college students and graduates across the state are helping Oregon communities to solve very basic
issues, from healthcare to homelessness, through social entrepreneurship that directly serves Oregonians. The student teams used the Governor’s Regional Solutions Centers’ priority list of issues as the starting point for developing their proposals.

Professor Yunus said, “I am so impressed with the social business proposals developed by Oregon college students. These are viable products and services that are addressing unmet needs in rural and urban communities in the state. It’s difficult to design a business that generates strong and growing sales that can sustain it and also meet its social mission. But all of the proposals, particularly Oregon State’s, provide a clear, measurable benefit to Oregon’s communities. Bravo to these talented Oregon students!”

Social businesses meet the economic, environmental and social needs of communities through an entrepreneurial business approach that holds community development and improvement as the most important outcomes. They are cause-driven businesses, and their ultimate goal is not simply to maximize profit, but to use innovation to overcome current and often systemic local or regional needs.

OSU’s winning social business, STAR Sports, proposed a social business that establishes a sports league for children with disabilities in Benton County, Oregon. Student team leaders noted in their presentation that children who participate in sports learn good social skills, conflict resolution and goal setting, and gain high self-esteem and positive behaviors. Sports programs help control obesity, promote activeness, increase a child’s self-image and social skills, and increase motivation; and fundamental motor and physical skills are also developed. Unfortunately, children with disabilities do not have many opportunities to participate in sports leagues, and thus the need for
STAR Sports.

The second place UO team’s proposal for a mobile healthcare clinic will bring affordable healthcare services to communities in need in rural communities in Oregon. SOU’s third place win for its Aquaponics project proposed a food security and water management program to address local issues in the Rogue Valley that would increase food production.

Special guest speaker Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber rallied the students before their presentations, addressing the importance of student engagement in communities while they are in college in order to gain on-the-ground experience that serves them and Oregonians once they fully join the work force after graduation. “In order to reinvent Oregon’s economy, all of us—public, private, and civic partners—must work together,” said Governor Kitzhaber. “This collaboration is critical to community and economic development, and the students’ community-based proposals align with the work we’re pursuing through our Regional Solutions Centers, where regional leaders and citizens leverage funding, creativity, and innovation to complete the highest priority projects.”
Chancellor of the Oregon University System, George Pernsteiner, said, “We are very proud of all of our student teams today for the high quality social business proposals that they have developed. Higher education is an economic engine whose value directly affects almost every Oregonian. When that strength is combined with the concept of social business, community problems can be addressed using business models that are inclusive of addressing social issues that impact Oregonians lives.”

Other student teams who made it to the finalists’ presentations included OSU for “Building Community Biomass”; two PSU teams for “Open Source Medical Solutions,” and “Wealth and Health”; and SOU for “Student Sustainable Farm.”

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