The 2022 Final IiA Showcase
For nine years, the Innovation in Action program has never failed to produce extraordinary innovators, entrepreneurs, and teams passionate about making the world a better place. This year was no different. Last week, on Friday, April 8th, 19 teams from 12 schools and colleges within the University of Michigan competed for $26 thousand dollars in prizes.
Story by Lawryn Fraley
The event was hosted in Gather.Town, an online venue that simulates a physical space by allowing its users to move in and out of conversations within a mapped location. Thanks to the program being entirely virtual for the third consecutive year, IiA saw more teams, more academic diversity, and more variety than before.
The Showcase itself served as a celebration of the student teams’ months of hard work investigating their chosen challenge, the stakeholders involved, and potential solutions. With projects ranging from empowering refugees to find their way in the US financial system to bringing awareness about climate change through an optimistic newsletter, this cohort was excited to share their work with a panel of six judges. The judges range in industry experience and background, but all share a passion for change. You can read more about our panel of judges –Trevor Bechtel, Sarika Gupta, Kelly Kowatch, Stacey Matlen, Elisabeth Michel, and Ian Robinson – in our IiA Final Showcase Program.
The judges were asked to evaluate each team on their understanding of the problem, potential for impact, demonstration of progress, sustainability, and strength of the team. Even with a thorough Scoring Rubric, the judges often commented on how difficult it was to select winning teams, Elisabeth shared this sentiment during the final award announcements “an entrepreneur is someone who is willing to listen, step up, and respond – and all of you demonstrated that today. Today, I didn’t only listen to pitches – I walked away with a better understanding of the world that I live in. I also valued seeing teams packed with a variety of perspectives. Successful execution of an innovative idea is impossible without a strong team and the ability to build relationships across differences.”
After a long day of presentations, the judges were finally asked to make their decisions. Twelve IiA teams made it to the final showcase as Finalists: Beyond Barcode, Oudio, FriendTime, With U, Pacaya, JackLion, CityZen, The Climate Optimist, i4Maker HearQueer, NFT Vault, and Trash.py.
Winners were announced by Ann Verhey-Henke, Strategic Director for C-SED. In a room of immense talent, seven prizes were awarded. The Poverty Solutions Economic Mobility Award of $2,500, made possible by Poverty Solutions, the university wide initiative devoted to finding innovative solutions to preventing and alleviating poverty, was awarded to Eatculsive. Eatclusive aims to implement a NASA technology to grow cultural produce that is inexpensive, portable, and low maintenance to food pantries who can provide and communicate with local community members through an app.
After a full day of voting, the Audience Choice award of $1,000 was presented to FUSE. The FUSE team is committed to empowering refugees to find their way in the US financial system and take control of their new lives: by allowing users to visualize and manage their financial assistance, find additional sources of income, and take advantage of additional financial orientation — when they need it, wherever they need it, and in any language they speak.
In addition to an Audience Choice award, the panel of judges insisted on a first-ever IiA Honorable Mention award of $500 to not one, but two phenomenal teams: Girrup and Equityish. Girrup focuses on addressing the accessibility and sustainability challenges in outdoor recreation by leveraging the power of the shared economy. Through their peer-to-peer platform they connect owners that have underutilized gear to adventure-seekers that otherwise might miss out. Equityish calculates a candidate’s salary wage through transparent personalized data tomaximize pay equity in an organization.
Third place with a prize of $5,000 was Grow Together, a financial education resource that is culturally relevant and easy to understand aimed at alleviating the wealth gap.
The second place prize of $7,500 went to Sea-Spider for their use of artificial intelligence to improve the identification of ghost nets in sensitive coral reefs in order to assist volunteer organizations in their ocean clean ups. Sea-Spider aims to remove harmful fishing nets and conserve the environment.
With much excitement, the first place prize of $10,000 was awarded to WILD (whether in life or death) for their all-in-one destination that offers users a new and better way to plan for funerals. Empowering users to take control of their lives by thinking about and planning for the inevitable, which reduces time, money, and stress.
Congratulations to all of our finalists for making it to the showcase. We wish all of you the best on your journey from here. Thank you for bringing your passion, curiosity, and creativity to IiA and to the industries and communities in which you are making an impact. Congratulations to each and every single participant! You can read more about the 2022 IiA winning teams and celebrate all of the finalists on our website.