The Gigot Center held its annual McCloskey Business Plan Competition in late April, where members of the Notre Dame community came together for the purpose of fostering new business development. After two virtual rounds that started late last October, a semifinalist and finalist round were held two weeks ago that consisted of oral presentations in front of a panel of judges that included angel investors, venture capitalist, entrepreneurs and other industry experts. Semifinalists and finalists competed for a suite of cash prizes, including the $25,ooo McCloskey grand prize andthe $15,000 Klau Family Prize for Greatest Social Impact.
This year’s Klau winner was Safetap, a suicide prevention mobile application. The creation of Notre Dame junior neuroscience major Kenneth Colon, the app would provide access to school-specific resources for high school and college students in addition to a therapist search and crisis resources, including emergency hotlines and chats.
“For me–it sounds dramatic–it was about saving lives,” said Colon. “I don’t feel like any student should have to jump through hoops to get the care they need. It shouldn’t be the way it is. We have the technology to prevent these problems from happening, to get the students what they need quickly and efficiently 24/7. I don’t think we should be limited to walk-in office hours for counseling from 9-5.”
Colon said he was inspired to create Safetap because of all the different issues around college campuses. The most striking stat is that 50 percent of students suffer with depression and anxiety, with suicide numbers escalating in recent years. In addition, Notre Dame recently released a report that said that one in four women is sexually assaulted on campus.
“A lot of the students I’ve spoken to at the counseling center are there due to sexual assault-related issues,” Colon said. “And then with just the sense of personal loss and the loss of a sense of security that comes along with that, mental health is just a huge part of [why I started Safetap].”
Safetap, which already has a prototype for Notre Dame, would focus on two areas–crisis care and counseling. For crisis care, it allows users to notify emergency contacts or campus police immediately if something is wrong. On the counseling side of things, Colon said he is focusing his efforts on telemental health services, where one could videoconference with a counselor instead of going to an office.
“Instead of going to the counselor center or calling, you can book an appointment online discreetly and then have the session right there from your dorm room,” Colon said. “The counseling center would be able to reach so many more people than they do currently.”
After winning the Klau Family Prize (as well as the Sutherland Family Award for Best Presentation), Colon has bigger plans for Safetap. Colon has already been in touch with such schools as California State, TCU, and Columbia, which have expressed interest in Safetap, and he’ll spend this summer at Notre Dame’s Innovation Park honing his model.
Safetap was not the only business plan that was considered for the Klau prize, however.
Banco De Alimentos Panama (BAP), a venture led by 2016 BSChE candidate Enrique Marquez, was not only a semifinalist but won the Vennli Award for Best Undergraduate Venture. As a result, BAP was also entered as a semifinalist for the ACC InVenture Prize. BAP has already been up and running successfully as the Panama Food Bank, the first of its kind, and already has raised $300,000 of seed capital and distributed over 200 tons of food to benefit over 20,000 people suffering through extreme poverty in Panama.
Another McCloskey entry included Enza, a community-based crafting initiative led by 2016 undergraduate Abbey Dankoff that is dedicated to enhancing the lives of women across South Africa. Believing in the abilities of all women today, Enza is developing simple, skills-focused projects for women to advance their own potential–and hopes to provide the tools for women to build sustainable solutions for their futures.
The social venture that may have impressed the judges most when considering the overall business model was POLCO, one of eight finalists and the venture that won the McCloskey Runner-up Prize. Polco is a civic engagement and policy participation platform led by 2003 Notre Dame graduate Nick Mastronardi. It allows users to do a variety of things–from helping busy, but concerned citizens participate in their city’s town hall meetings to hosting policy proposals and letting citizens find what is most relevant to them–in a simple and validated way. Finally, reps can see how their previously silent majority feels.
There were many other notable enterprises and all McCloskey Business Plan entries were asked to articulate their “force for good.” For more information about the McCloskey Business Plan Competition or the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship at the Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame, visit their website at gigot.nd.edu.