A team of five Kauaʻi Community College students made it to the finals of the End Poverty Innovation Challenge (EPIC) 2020 in December. Team NutriSweet went head-to-head against seven teams from Guatemala, Hong Kong, South Africa, Italy, Colombia and Zambia.

EPIC really opened my eyes to how diverse the entrepreneurship world can be. It was an unique experience to hear all the different ideas for different issues around the world. Very inspiring!” said Kauaʻi CC student Taylor Reis.

Sponsored by the Social Ventures Foundation, EPIC aims to create a pipeline to facilitate the identification, recognition, promotion and investment in the most impactful and outstanding sustainable social ventures that can scale and make a difference to millions of the world’s poor.

Lifting those at the bottom

Team NutriSweet, composed of students enrolled in Assistant Professor Dirk Soma’s Entrepreneurship 125 course, included Reis, Denise Nakamura, Leighton Pajela, Crysten-Kaori Kaya and Jacelyn Perreira. They created, refined and submitted their written proposal and produced a 3-minute video hoping to impress the first round of judges and make it to the top 10.

“I am always looking at ways to incorporate project-based activities into my classes and, given the situation that our world is in, EPIC was a great opportunity to focus our students’ entrepreneurial attention on ways to lift those at the bottom of the pyramid,” Soma said.

This year, more than 75 student teams from universities and colleges from around the world submitted social entrepreneurship proposals. The Kauaʻi CC team was the only one chosen from the U.S. to reach the finals.

A chewable solution

In the virtual finals, Team Nutrisweet shared how their concept of collecting and processing local fresh fruits and vegetables into tasty gummies would provide four main benefits:

  • Reduce food waste by creating value-added products for items that could not be sold to markets.
  • Provide a source of inexpensive nutrients to impoverished communities, especially pregnant women and children.
  • Support farmers and provide jobs within the Kauaʻi community.
  • Develop a model for micro-enterprise and micro-franchising with global scalability.

Although the team didn’t take home an award this year, the experience has made an impact.

“I’ve gained a lot of knowledge of what’s really going on in the world,” Perreira said. “It’s ‘easy’ to just look past poverty and hunger when it’s not happening directly to you. With doing this challenge, I’ve become more invested in my community and hopefully can make a positive impact.”

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Students at the EPIC finals