USC Social Entrepreneur Focused on Climate Change Aided by USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase Award

Kayla Soren won the $5,000 Global Impact Award at the USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase for the non-profit she founded, International Student Environmental Coalition (ISEC). (Photo/Nikolaus Traitler, USC Stevens Center for Innovation)

USC Social Entrepreneur Focused on Climate Change Aided by USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase Award

By Peijean Tsai, USC Stevens Center for Innovation

Applications are currently being accepted online until September 2, 2018 for the next USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase.

The annual USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase is a business competition open to USC students in all disciplines. Since 2007, the Showcase has awarded nearly $150,000 to USC students for their inventions and startup ideas. The majority of students applying to compete in the Showcase are pitching ideas in traditional startup areas, such as science and technology, media, and engineering. In the past couple of years, however, the application pool has been diversifying as more applications are emerging from social entrepreneurs.

That was the case with USC student Kayla Soren, who founded International Student Environmental Coalition (ISEC), a nonprofit that unites and empowers students across the world to act for climate justice. She applied to the 2017 Showcase and was accepted to compete. She then pitched her nonprofit organization to a panel of judges in October and advanced to the Showcase’s finalist round. Soren ended up winning the $5,000 Global Impact award, a very prestigious honor.

“I would encourage nonprofits specifically to apply for the USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase,” said Soren, a USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences student majoring in international relations and environmental studies who will be starting her junior year at USC later this month. “They would never think that an entrepreneurship program at USC or beyond USC could help them, but the entrepreneurial space is becoming more inclusive to nonprofits, and seeing it as a form of social entrepreneurship.”

Soren’s nonprofit, International Student Environmental Coalition, is an international network of over 600 students across 30 countries. The network provides structure and a platform for young people who care about the environment to take action with projects that positively impact their communities. To start the coalition, Soren secured a $25,000 competitive grant from the U.S. State Department.

The $5,000 award from the Stevens Showcase was used to pay for several projects in 2018 in Uganda, Nepal, Indonesia, Pakistan, and an ongoing project in Bangladesh, according to Soren.

In March, the coalition’s Earth Hour project brought together college students from Uganda and Nepal for an essay writing contest, teaching them persuasive writing skills to address environmental issues in their own countries. Also in Uganda, the award funded Environment My Best Friend, a cultural event that brought together over 2,500 students from multiple universities to celebrate the environment and raise climate awareness with speeches and dances.

In April, the award paid for a water turbine and tree planting project in Indonesia, and a beach cleanup in Pakistan.

An ongoing project in Bangladesh is also being supported by the Stevens award. The project is a tourist destination protection program to raise awareness about the environmental impact of tourism at a popular waterfall and protect the area with signage and several organized cleanups.

“The prize money went a long way and was able to help lots of projects, because our projects don’t cost a lot,” said Soren.

Soren noted that in the nonprofit space, securing funding for smaller projects is a challenge. Usually grant applications are for a larger amount where funds must go to only one project. Also, government or grant funding is prone to fall through. The Stevens award helped cover the smaller projects where it would not make sense to apply for a larger grant.

“The award was super helpful. For the nonprofit space, it’s really difficult to find funds that specifically don’t require it to go to one particular project,” she said. “This helped us cover extra costs, and the case when sometimes the government falls through. We couldn’t have done the projects without it.”

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The USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase is an annual University of Southern California student business competition hosted by the USC Stevens Center for Innovation. Applications are currently being accepted online until September 2, 2018 for the 12th Annual USC Stevens Student Innovator Showcase.

The annual competition has distributed nearly $150,000 in USC-sponsored awards to USC students from 2007 to 2017.

–Published August 21, 2018

The water turbine project in an Indonesian village included planting 200 trees around the lake where the water turbine drew from. (Photo courtesy Kayla Soren)

 

In Uganda, the project Environment My Best Friend brought together over 2,500 students to celebrate the environment with speeches and dances representative of the local indigenous culture. (Photo courtesy Kayla Soren)

A beach cleanup in Pakistan in April 2018 brought together 65 students from the University of Karachi. (Photo courtesy Kayla Soren)

The Earth Hour project brought together college students from Uganda and Nepal for an essay writing contest, teaching them persuasive writing skills to address environmental issues in their own countries. (Photo courtesy Kayla Soren)