October 23, 2019

Social innovation in the heart of Detroit

For Wayne State students looking to turn a dream into an impactful reality, OptimizeWayne’s Social Innovation Challenge is the perfect opportunity.

In the midst of its fourth year, the challenge has helped students launch their own startups and nonprofits by connecting participants with an invaluable network of mentors, funding and resources. 

OptimizeWayne — a student-run group that works to transform ideas about social change within Detroit into viable projects —  promotes novel and unique origination, targeting students who might not initially see themselves as entrepreneurs. Over the last three years, it has awarded over 20 student-led organizations and startups more than $100,000.

“We urge potential participants of the challenge to ask themselves, ‘Why not me?’” said Waleed Vaid, a Wayne State senior who is double majoring in public health and public affairs, and OptimizeWayne’s student engagement director. “What makes OptimizeWayne unique is that its surrounding environment is a recovering and resourceful urban climate, which provides numerous sources of inspiration.”

OptimizeWayne seeks students from all majors who have ideas that they want to turn into something bigger. Innovators are encouraged to apply to participate in the 2019-20 challenge. Applications are due by Oct. 26, but will be accepted on a rolling basis. Apply online.

Following the initial kickoff event on Oct. 16, participating teams will receive support from experienced mentors and access to resources during monthly workshops, held this November through February of 2020.

After a series of workshops and events, participants will pitch their ideas for a chance to win up to $20,000 in project funding. Pitch Day, which will take place before a panel of judges, is scheduled for March 2020. The panel will likely include Wayne State’s provost, the dean of the Irvin D. Reid Honors College and representatives from the establishments that have invested in the competition.

The metrics used to select the final winner are based on idea relevance, projected sustainability, anticipated funding options and the overall passion displayed by the members of the team.

Among OptimizeWayne’s networks is WSU’s Innovation Hub — a centralized location designed to help connect and coordinate entrepreneurship education, technology and community partnerships. Other resources include Detroit’s entrepreneurial hub, TechTown; Wayne State’s Business and Community Law Clinic; Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program; and the Anderson Engineering Venture Institute.

In the past, OptimizeWayne has awarded money to ideas that alleviate food insecurity in Detroit, such as Blessing Box or Detroit Feedback Loop. Winners of the challenge have included the university cardiopulmonary resuscitation education group, HOCPR; a solar energy-promoting initiative, “Optimize Sunlight”; and many other like-minded, community-inspired projects.

“We learn about these problems in our classes,” Vaid said. “People have a lot of ideas, but do not act on them. Our organization gives them the opportunity and the resources to do just that.”