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Acara

Summary for 2013/14 Academic Year and What’s Planned

October 9, 2014fred.roseAcara News Desk, FeaturedComments Off
Alex, Jamie and Shaine sharing their adventures from India at the Open House.

Alex, Jamie and Shaine sharing their adventures from India at the Open House.

We had another exciting year for the academic year 2013/14. We worked with many students, budding entrepreneurs and ventures. We want to take a moment to update all our friends and supporters.

 

Last spring, Acara was awarded  the C. Eugene Allen Award for Innovative International Initiatives (III Award) from the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance. This award recognizes faculty and staff for their contributions to further the internationalization of the University of Minnesota. We are proud of that recognition from the University.

 

The University of Minnesota has been developing a new strategic plan. This plan will bring more university focus on Grand Challenges. Several of us participated in this process and it’s exciting to see this new focus! Acara is definitely aligned with this strategy and we look forward to participating.

 

Acara considers both an education and impact side of our mission to help students understand, design and develop solutions to grand challenges. Below are updates from both of those missions.

 

Education
 
We are involved in teaching a variety of courses and workshops. In the 2013/14 academic year, we offered the following courses, workshops and competitions. Our formal UMN courses are offered through other colleges as IonE isn’t an academic center (which means IonE doesn’t have faculty per se or courses).

 

Courses:

 

  • CSE (College of Science and Engineering) 1905 – Fall 2013, 10^9 Challenge. This course, taught by Julian Marshall, is a one-credit introductory course on grand challenge problem solving.
  • CE (Civil Engineering) 5571 – Fall 2013. Acara Global Venture Design. Taught by Julian Marshall, Brian Bell, Toby Nord and Fred Rose.
  • CE5572 – January 2014, Social Venture Launchpad, for students with an idea for a venture. Taught by Fred Rose
  • CFANS (College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences)  3480/5480 – Spring 2014. A new class, Social Entrepreneurship in Uganda, in collaboration with Makerere University. Taught by Fred Rose and Cheryl Robertson.
  • CE 5570 – May term, 2014. Discovery India. A 3 week study abroad program to Bangalore, India (which includes the Summer Institute). Taught by Brian Bell, Julian Marshall and Fred Rose.

We had 5 students from the Fall 2013 5571 course spend from 3-9 months in India on longer term internships. Here is a summary from three doing a waste-related internship. We also had 3 students from the CFANS 3480 course spend a month in Uganda with the Makerere students.

 

Workshops:

 

  • Dar es Salaam, Tanzania –  August 2013. Part of USAID-sponsored RESPOND program. Taught by Fred Rose and Cheryl Robertson.
  • Stanford – November 2013. Part of the US-Mexico Forum for Understanding, Cooperation and Solidarity (Fred is an advisor to this organization). Taught by Fred Rose.
  • University of Kinshasa, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo – Feb 2014. Part of USAID-sponsored RESPOND program. Taught by Fred Rose and Cheryl Robertson.
  • Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda – Feb 2014. Collaboration with CFANS 3480 course and RESPOND. Taught by Fred Rose and Cheryl Robertson.
  • Acara Spring Workshops – March, April 2014. Workshops for local social entrepreneurs. Taught by Brian Bell and Fred Rose.
  • ITAM (Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México), Mexico City – April 2014. Part of the US-Mexico Forum. Taught by Fred Rose.

 

Competitions:

 

 

Student Metrics:

 

These metrics are quantitative measures of students taught by Acara “staff” (see above). These are UMN courses, not-for-credit workshops and 3-5 day workshops taught in India or Africa. If students take multiple courses, they are counted just once. Students can change categories over the course of a year, these charts capture where they start. We haven’t broken out students that progress from not having a venture idea to having one and working on it. Years are academic years. So 2013 refers to the 2013/4 academic year and ended June 30, 2014.

 

The first chart of metrics breaks students out by segment, over academic year. We have the following student segments (in the case below, student refers to University Student):
  • Noah (Idealistic Newbie). Full time Student, no idea for a venture.
  • Maya (World Changer): Full time student, has an idea for a venture.
  • Ramesh (Eager Entrepreneur): Not a student, has an idea for a venture.
  • Barbara (Encore Artist): Not a student, doesn’t have an idea for a venture.
There was a drop in the past year, primarily because of the timing of a large class of 60 students at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. That class was too large and this past academic year, we did a smaller, more focused class.

 

Impact

 

While the Education part of Acara is well structured around courses and workshops, the Impact side is more like the startup venture ecosystem in which it operates, namely ever-changing and dynamic. Our impact mission is fairly simple, help social/environmental entrepreneurs move their idea/venture to a point where they can engage in the startup ecosystem (which primarily means seeking funding).

 

Venture Ideas:

 

The ventures we work with come from several sources:
  • Students from our courses (this includes UMN students and students in India and Uganda)
  • Students in the competitions (Acara Challenge and Dow SISCA)
  • Entrepreneurs that participate in our monthly Impact Reviews.
Our level of involvement varies of course, and is highest for students coming from our UMN classes and the Acara Challenge. Involvement means Venture Fellowships (up to $5K), staff time and mentoring.

 

Status of student Ventures is an ever changing list. This link has a short status of ventures from past Acara Challenges.

 

The next metric chart looks at venture ideas, prototypes and successful ventures. An idea is something developed or refined over the course. A prototype is time spent in the field doing a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) or something close to it. A successful venture is something we rate a 10 or higher on the 15 point scale we have to measure business maturity. Details of this will be covered in a future blog. This maturity means that it takes a while from conception to that point. So numbers from years 2012 and 2013 will change.
The next chart is a portfolio look of student ventures, measured against social impact maturity and business maturity. The ideal venture would proceed along a diagonal up to the right, becoming more mature and independent as time goes on. All the ventures from all sources are plotted on this chart.

 

Impact Venture Reviews:

 

We do Impact Reviews monthly (during the academic calendar) which are informal reviews by our Acara At Large Advisory panel of social ventures. These are one hour sessions to help the entrepreneur with key strategic questions. These ventures may be from our students or from anyone in the community. Ventures reviewed the past year included:
  • MyRain – Steele Lorenz. Was a 2014 MN Cup semifinalist.
  • be Waste Wise – Katrina Mitchell. Katrina has started another venture, Picture Perfect, which was a 2014 MN Cup semifinalist.
  • Bogo Brush – Heather McDougall
  • Joy of the People – Ted Kroeten
  • Andamio Games – Kyle Nelson
  • Mighty Axe Hops – Brian Krohn and Eric Sannerud. Was a 2014 MN Cup semifinalist.
  • Jeff Ochs review of benefit corporations and social venture structure/definition
  • Skivvies – Kelsey Fecho
  • BDW Technologies – Adam Woodruff. Was a 2014 MN Cup semifinalist.
  • College Credit – Ify Onyiah
New for 2014/15 Academic Year

 

We are planning essentially the same set of courses and competitions for this current academic year.  The new things we are doing are more on the Impact side of the mission.
  • This fall we are doing a pilot of something we call Grand Challenge Impact Studio. Essentially this is just a facilitated workshop with students working on Grand Challenge ideas. Since we started this late we are really just working with Acara students and students from the Food Grand Challenge course.
  • Minnesota Social Impact Center. Acara is a partner with this new organization. This helps fill an important void for Acara students that are pursuing their venture ideas. An place to work and get support is crucial. Check out the big event on November 12 and become a member!
We will do another blog post in the near future with more details on the metrics and more charts.

 

Thanks!

Grand Challenge Impact Studio

September 10, 2014fred.roseAcara News DeskComments Off

Poverty. Social inequality. World hunger. Climate change. Disease. Religious intolerance. These are some of the Grand Challenges President Kaler called out in his 2014 State of the University speech. There are many UMN students who are interested in these topics, are taking courses on developing solutions or may already have a venture or business idea. The Grand Challenge Impact Studio is an initiative at the UMN to help you develop and solidify your idea, connect with a strong network of mentors and experts and to launch a pilot.

The Studio is a weekly facilitated session and is intended to be a compliment to any class or program you may be taking.  It will provide a focused time with mentors, outside experts and other students working on similar challenges. This is co-curricular, no credit.  They are scheduled Mondays 3:30-5:00 at IonE on the St. Paul campus. If that time doesn’t work for you, let us know times that may, we will try to schedule a few sessions at other times on the West or East Bank. It’s easy to get to IonE on the St. Paul campus via the connector, which stops right across the street. The Studio starts Monday, Sept 29 and continues through Dec 8. We will likely continue in the spring semester to help teams develop ideas for pilots and minimal viable products.

The Impact Studio is a collaboration of many individuals across campus and is being operated by the Acara program in the Institute on the Environment.  Acara is the 2014 winner of the UMN C. Eugene Allen Award for Innovative International Initiatives and has helped develop and launch such ventures as MyRain, a drip irrigation business for small plot farmers in India, Minneapolis-based Twin Fin Aquaponics and Minneapolis-based Eat For Equity. The Impact Studio will also work hand-in-hand with Boreas Leadership Program.

The Impact Studio will include a series of guest mentors. Mentors already committed include: Simone Ahuja, author of Jugaad Innovation,  Brad Lordhing and Scott Nelson of LogicPD, a leading design firm in the area of Internet of Things, Tony Loyd, former executive of John Deere and Medtronic, Leo Sharkey, General Manager, Siemens Water Technologies and others. All have a long track record of innovation in Grand Challenge areas.

Students must apply to be accepted into the GC Studio. The application is here.  Applications are due no later than Sept 22, we will accept on a rolling basis so don’t wait, as we have limited space. You may sign up as an individual or as part of a team. There is no fee associated with the Studio, nor will students receive credit. This is a new initiative we are testing this fall and will have limited enrollment. It’s a great opportunity and you can help shape the GC Studio concept.

There are many great programs now around the university for entrepreneurship, design thinking and others. The GC Impact Studio is not meant to duplicate any of those. It is meant to provide an additional support to develop students interested in impact on Grand Challenges.

 What’s a Grand Challenge?

The ongoing UMN-wide strategy team is developing a working definition of what is meant by a Grand Challenge for operational purposes. In the meantime, the following serves for our purposes[1]:

  1. The situation is emergent,
  2.    as a result, there is a constant flow of information to negotiate,
  3.       this means actors are constantly changing their behavior

Emergent in this case means the properties of the situation arise from the interactions of many parts, which in practical terms means you can’t predict it in advance.

The UMN Grand Challenge – Curriculum Sub-committee, which met over the 2014 summer, has a draft report on recommended action. That is not yet approved for release but the following section summarizes much of the objective of the proposed GC Impact Studio: “At both the undergraduate and post-baccalaureate levels, the goal of the Grand Challenges Curriculum is to help students develop a foundational set of knowledge, skills, and values. The focus is on competencies that prepare students to recognize grand challenges, assess possible points of intervention, and take action. These foundational competencies can be applied across a range of potential grand-challenge topics.”

Pilot: Following the process many team members teach in their respective programs, we are using lean startup methods, in this case proposing a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) to test basic assumptions. We propose to pilot the GC Impact Studio for students from various programs around the UMN.

What are the assumptions and hypotheses we want to validate with this MVP?

  • We hypothesize that a co-curricular studio environment can deliver and develop GC skills in students.
  • We hypothesize the Impact Studio can accelerate student led ventures focused on Grand Challenges.
  • We assume students will attend (what is the right mix of location, time, etc.):
  • We test the right program mix (skill building, mentoring, team interactions)
  • There are multiple options for working with students: for-credit classes, extra-curricular, student organization, grad/undergrad, post-graduation. This is a focus on co-curricular.
  • Mixing impact ventures, traditional for-profit, non-profit, policy ventures together will work in one studio.

What happens in the studio?
The studio will provide students a place to:

  • Work with mentors from inside and outside the university, who have expertise valuable to startup teams
  • Work with other students working on similar challenges
  • Connect with a network
  • Spend focused time on your plan
  • Learn skills (presenting, design thinking, funding strategies, etc.)

There will be external and internal UMN mentors in each session. The sessions will follow a general design thinking process of empathy<->design<->ideate<->prototype<->test, over the course of the semester. Again the purpose is to compliment what you are getting in class. It’s more one-on-one time.

The Acara team has delivered more than 10 one-week workshops/classes and 10 semester long courses (which have 3 hour class sessions). During this time, we have developed and used a number of workshop/skill-based sessions, interspersed with one-on-one mentoring. Many of these will form the basis for the sessions. We are not predefining the sessions at this point, except for the first two sessions which will be focused on design thinking.

How is this different from what students may be able to get in other ways or from mentors provided to them? Part of that answer lies in the eligibility. These are not general purpose entrepreneurship focused sessions. Those already exist at the UMN at Carlson and are great. We want to bring in the range of social, environmental, international and Grand Challenge focused ventures. There may be some overlap with other programs but that’s fine. More help for students the better.


[1] Melanie Mitchell, Complexity: A Guided Tour (Oxford University Press, USA, 2009)

This is India

June 25, 2014fred.roseAcara News Desk, FeaturedComments Off

DSC00243

We recently returned from our annual Summer Institute course in India. We had 14 UMN students plus 9 other students from India and the US. In pre-departure meetings and during our first few days in India, students asked us questions about aspects of India that appeared illogical to them. Often our response boiled down to, “it’s India”.  Over the last three weeks, students began to understand what that phrase meant; by the end of class, the class motto became “This is India.” Or as one of our van drivers said after one of many close calls in Bangalore traffic, “This is the India”.

For the students, and instructors, this class has been an impactful few weeks. There was no protective shell around the students in India. From day one, students were out in the street and in communities, learning first-hand about issues ranging from water (in)access in slums to solid waste challenges in one of India’s fastest growing cities to women’s livelihoods in rural villages.  A number of students asked why we didn’t help prepare them for what they did. In a way, we did: There were many reading assignments and discussions prior to leaving Minnesota. But the readings and discussions didn’t sink in until we were on the ground in India, which is precisely why we do classes like this.

During the class, we had the opportunity to work with many of Bangalore’s leading change-making organizations, such as Saahas, SELCO, TIDE, and MyRain, among others. One of the inspiring groups we interfaced with was The Ugly Indian, an anonymous movement of Indians cleaning up cities throughout India. With The Ugly Indian, we spent a morning “spot-fixing” one of Bangalore’s iconic streets, turning a neglected, trash-ridden sidewalk into a pleasant and hygienic public space, while attracting the attention of national publications and the neighborhood at large. It was a chance to be part of a movement that matters and to have fun getting into action with some of Bangalore’s most motivated, and known but unknown, social entrepreneurs.

This was an amazing group of students. Every group or organization we visited commented on the maturity of the students and their insightful questions. The students enthusiastically embraced everything from eating street food to negotiating with auto rickshaw drivers over the right fare. These are not skills that can be taught in a classroom.

These weeks in India are some of the best weeks of the year for me. It’s energizing to be with such passionate and smart young people and see their desire, despite the challenges, to tackle tough problems with their Midwestern grit.

“This is India” please meet “This is Minnesota”.

Acara Challenge 2014

March 18, 2014fred.roseAcara News Desk, FeaturedComments Off

Patricia Dorsher and Ify Onyiah of College Credit

Patricia Dorsher and Ify Onyiah of College Credit

The 2014 version of the annual Acara Challenge was held Feb 21, 2014 at the lovely McNamara Alumni Center on the East Bank campus. This has been a brutal winter in Minnesota, the coldest in more than 30 years and one of the coldest on record. Of course, Feb 21 was one of the worst weather days of the winter, with 8-10 inches of snow, on top of ice, and cold weather. But we are a hardy bunch in Minnesota and the event went off on schedule. The Challenge was a little different this year. There was an International and a Domestic division, and only teams from the Universityof Minnesota participated. However, the competition was open to any UMN student and we had 11 great teams presenting, seven in the International Division and four in the Domestic Division.

The results of the Challenge, along with the plans and presentations of the teams, are here and listed below. The teams are now enjoying Spring Break. The teams are continuing to work and make progress. Several are planning to go to India, Uganda and Haiti for continued work this summer, as are some of the local teams. Stay tuned for updates.

J Term Course, January 2014

February 3, 2014fred.roseAcara News Desk, FeaturedComments Off
January 2014 course.

January 2014 course.

The January-term course, CE5572/PA5290/ARCH 5550, is for students who want to bring their existing idea for a for profit or nonprofit social venture to fruition or scale. The 2-credit course occurred January 13-17, 2014, on the St. Paul campus.  It’s an intensive but fun one week. Students get a chance to focus on their project, without other distractions. There were 14 students this January and most of them will be presenting in the February 21, 2014 Acara Challenge. The idea summaries are below

Help Desk

Help Desk makes beautiful furniture using sustainably-sourced East African hard woods and the profits go to making classroom improvements in under-equipped Ugandan schools.

Sabujawalla

Sabujawalla addresses the waste issue in India by employing waste pickers to collect waste from households, sort it, and then sell plastics and organic material to scrap dealers and recycling plants.

Skivvies

Skivvies will sell underwear domestically; for every pair sold, a pair will be donated to a young girl in Haiti.  This underwear will be one way to help girls discretely manage their periods and therefore allow girls to regularly attend school.

SunFarms

SunFarms will establish small centers in rural communities to purchase and dry fruits and vegetables close to where they are produced, thereby decreasing food spoilage and increase farmer profits in rural India.

Tech-share

Tech-share will teach rural Ugandan students how to use computers through a mobile computer laboratory with the help of computer engineering students and staff from Mbarara University in western Uganda.

Women for Water

Women for Water recruits women from low-income families in Bangalore, India to go to their friends, families, and neighbors to give educational presentations and promote and sell water treatment technologies.

CollegeCredit

CollegeCredit plans to deliver well-designed, youthful, engaging online financial literacy courses and proprietary tools through partnerships with colleges and universities. This puts information directly into students’ hands, encouraging them to make decisions while still in college that will improve their financial situations.

Yellow Mellow

Yellow Mellow’s product will change the chemical environment of the toilet so that consumers can forego flushing often.

PowerToGo

PowerToGo provides a mobile phone charging solution through a network of portable power sources to keep busy customers conveniently connected to our modern world.

Co-Lab

Co-Lab is a co-working space at Carlson for UMN students.

PARENT INSTITUTE
Acara is the impact entrepreneurship program of the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment in partnership with the College of Science and Engineering and the Carlson School of Management.

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