A pocket dietitian, road-trip-sharing service and an app designed to improve countryside travel earned top honors at UCF’s 2018 Social Venture Competition. The competition, which took place Nov. 15 and is in its third year, rewards students who develop solutions intended to impact society’s biggest problems.

Senior photonic science and engineering major Rafaela Frota beat out six other finalist companies with her concept for Wawwe (We Are What We Eat.) The mobile app uses data and algorithms to help people decide whether they should eat something based on their personal dietary needs.

The competition rewards students who develop solutions intended to impact society’s biggest problems.

In under seven minutes, finalists had to present the problem they intended to solve, the solution they planned to offer, and a sustainable and scalable business model that could deliver the solution. Then they had up to three minutes to answer questions from a panel of three judges, who selected winners based on criterion such as concept, social impact, context, performance measures and presentation.

“The inspiration for Wawwe came from my desire to help give confidence and support to people diagnosed with a diet restrictive illness and were feeling lost and overwhelmed,” says Frota, who came up with the idea at 14 after watching food documentaries such as Food Inc. “My dream is to work with hospitals across the nation to bring Wawwe to as many patients as possible and increase their health through easy access, easy to understand personalized nutrition.”

Frota was awarded a $2,500 scholarship from State Farm Insurance, which sponsors the contest. Second-place finishers took home $1,250 and third-placed earned $500 in scholarship funding.

About the Competition

UCF’s Social Venture Competition differs from other business contests because at the core of each business is a greater purpose to serve individuals or a community. Cameron Ford, director of UCF’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Blackstone LaunchPad, created the competition in 2015 to provide a platform for students to learn how to utilize entrepreneurship to address complex, social problems.

“One of the challenges with social ventures or enterprises is evaluating their success,” Ford says. “It’s a little bit different from a standard corporate [measurement,] like sales, revenue, number of customers and stuff like that. Here you’re looking at things a little more broadly, like impact, which can be pretty difficult to measure.”

“UCF has really paved the way for us to have access to so many more opportunities … and we’re incredibly grateful for that.” – David Thomas Moran ’14MFA

Last year, texts and technology doctoral student David Thomas Moran ’14MFA and art major Nathan Selikoff ’04, a Burnett Honors Scholar, were able to overcome this challenge. They won the competition with their transportation tech startup Omnimodal. The platform merges real-time public transportation information with already existing navigation apps so users can use their phones to get around easier. Their win at UCF led them to even greater success in the local community as they went on to win Central Florida’s Rally Social Enterprise Accelerator.

“The [Social Venture Competition] reminded Nathan and I that it’s so important to break out of our innovation silos and actively engage with all the incredible opportunity spaces across the Central Florida startup community here at UCF and beyond,” says Moran. “UCF has really paved the way for us to have access to so many more opportunities since we won last year and we’re incredibly grateful for that.”

This Year’s Winners

About thirty minutes before this year’s competition, two finalists realized they had similar ideas for their long-distance ride sharing app – down to the same statistics used in their presentation.  Rather than compete against each other, senior information technology major Eliecer Vera and junior computer science major Breezy Baldwin recognized an opportunity to be more successful through partnership

“It was really bizarre how identical they were. We both realized that neither of us would be likely to win the competition if we had the exact same pitch, but that it applied to our companies as well. We both can’t go head-to-head in the exact same market,” says Baldwin.

“We both realized that neither of us would be likely to win the competition if we had the exact same pitch.” – Breezy Baldwin, UCF student

Within minutes Baldwin, who has been working on her idea for 18 months and Vera, who developed his four months ago, managed to successful merge their presentations and companies under the name Hchhkr (pronounced “hitchhiker”.) So much so that they earned second place. They plan to continue working together.

Third place was awarded to Connected Wise, a smart onboard device that aims to improve safety in rural areas by allowing drivers to communicate with one another about road conditions. The company’s founders, Enes Karaaslan and Burak Sen, developed the idea from the areas of focus in their civil engineering doctoral studies.

The Food Exchange, developed by junior finance major Aurora Pavlish-Carpenter and first-year environmental engineering major Talia Gratz, earned an honorable mention and received $250. The app focuses on reducing food waste by allowing users to trade their unwanted food with other users nearby.

Other Finalists

Three more companies qualified to present at the competition:

  • Artificial Islands: Created by sophomore environmental engineering major Sache Fernandez, this social venture aims to protect urban coastal cities from tsunamis by building barrier islands off their coasts. These barrier islands will slow the tsunami down to reduce the wave’s destruction and death.
  • juujuuECO: Senior Nick Brown and sophomore Zach Rinker began noticing more and more people were improperly disposing plastic pods used for JUUL, an electronic cigarette, and wanted to do something to address the issue. juujuuECO is a platform that encourages JUUL users to turn in their used pods in return for free items or discounts on items from their tech-accessory company juujuuBox.
  •  RadFlex Prosthetic Accessories: In 2017, senior finance Radley Gillis was in a motorcycle accident that necessitated him to have his legs amputated. The accident inspired Gillis to start a business that would help him and other amputees. The company’s purpose is to produce products that help reduce inconveniences related to cleaning and attaching prosthetics for amputees.
  • Students who are interested in pursuing any venture, social or otherwise, are encouraged to visit the Blackstone LaunchPad on the first floor of the Student Union to get one-on-one coaching from someone with experience or expertise.