Students present entrepreneurial projects at optiMize

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Finalist and winning team ADAPT receives their prize at optiMize Social Innovation Challenge Final Showcase at Rackham on Thursday. Buy this photo

By Tanaz Ahmed, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 16, 2015

Students across campus presented their entrepreneurial projects at the third annual optiMize Social Innovation Showcase in Rackham Auditorium on Thursday.

OptiMize is a student organization which focuses on social entrepreneurship. The organization provides funding, mentorship and other resources to students who are interested in creating projects and startups to help improve lives.

Event attendees listened to the five finalists pitch their startups and then voted online to select a crowd favorite to win an additional $1,000. The five finalists were Change of Mind, Leesta, Ready Set Start, ADAPT and Bounce.

OptiMize President Heidi Terpstra, an LSA senior, said she believes entrepreneurship is growing on campus.

“It’s really exciting to see people interested in this,” Terpstra said. “This kind of innovation bubble is growing. There are a lot of student orgs that are just as involved.”

LSA, United Way of Washtenaw County, the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Central Student Government as well as other University programs and Ann Arbor businesses provided support for the program.

In late October, optiMize held its social innovation challenge where teams submit ideas for social improvement. Applicants are asked to gather feedback on their proposals and students are then interviewed on their findings.

Afterward, 30 to 35 teams are selected to participate in workshops where they can further develop their ideas. Five finalists are chosen and each team is given a grant of $5,000.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate dean for entrepreneurial programs, delivered the keynote speech at the showcase. He spoke about the organization’s slogan — “Why not me?” — and encouraged attendees to think of how they can improve the world around them.

Change of Mind won the crowd vote award. ADAPT won an award from the panel, which included Angela Dillard, associate dean of undergraduate education; Pam Smith, president of United Way of Washtenaw County; and Tom Frank, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship. ADAPT also received an additional $1,000.

Ready Set Start, one of the runners up, is an organization that conducts art workshops in underprivileged schools. Bounce is an iOS app that allows students to find companions on campus to walk back home with.

Change of Mind found that Counseling and Psychological Services often has a long waiting period and created an application designed to address the needs CAPS currently cannot.

The application lets University students anonymously connect with other students and discuss issues they are facing. According to LSA junior Sushmita Diraviam, Change of Mind conducted a survey and found a large percentage of students wish they had the opportunity to have conversations about their concerns.

“What we’re trying to do on campus is really tackle this important issue of mental health,” Diraviam said.

ADAPT created an umbrella prototype that can be easily attached to wheelchairs.

Engineering junior Laura Murphy, a member of ADAPT, said the team hopes to create other products for wheelchairs, noting the creations will be unique because they will allow wheelchair users to customize the aesthetic designs of the products.

“ADAPT is changing the lives of differently abled people by restoring independence through empathetic and individualized design,” Murphy said.