Contest funds student ideas for fighting social woes

Katrina Tollin

University students worldwide will compete this week for a chance to win a $50,000 grand prize to jump-start their plan for social entrepreneurship.

The fifth annual Dell Social Innovation Competition is a partnership between Dell Computers and the LBJ School’s RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service.

“We want to see transformative, interdisciplinary solutions to anything from health issues, educational issues, to potable water and nutritional food,” said Mary Beth Bennett, a graduate research assistant for the RGK Center and graduate student in advertising.

“We think UT has a big part to play in expanding student entrepreneurship,” Bennett said. Jeff Paine, a finalist from last year’s competition, graduated with a master’s degree in chemical engineering. He now works full time on his project, Break it Down, a sustainable compost program.

“It was a good experience … as far as writing a business plan and being prepared to present and send it … just putting in all the effort and preparation, not only for the competition but just for the business itself,” Paine said.

In order to apply, students must submit a 500-word plan for their idea by Feb. 14. Selected applicants will be announced in March and will receive guidance on refining their idea until the final winner is announced in May.

“The vision for the competition is to spark the entrepreneurial spirit in students towards solving a social problem,” said Suzi Sosa, RGK Center assistant director for programs.

Dell and RGK will award $100,000 in total cash prizes and Dell laptops for finalists as seed money for their ideas. The first place winner will receive $50,000, and selected semi-finalists will attend idea-building seminars and receive coaching to further refine their ideas.

Student participants from UT will also be entered in a drawing for a free Dell laptop. As of Friday, 25 UT students have entered the competition.

For more information on the Dell Social Innovation Competition to view entries or to submit an idea, visit