Y-Prize Social Innovation Solution Competition—Hear From the Winners

PROVO, Utah – Aug 27, 2019 – The Y-Prize: Social Innovation Solution (SIS) competition is an opportunity for Brigham Young University students to take a current, real-life problem a sponsor organization is facing, research it thoroughly, and propose a solution. Student participants have a limited number of days to work together in teams to fully understand the problem, brainstorm ideas to fix it, and present their recommendations.

This year a total of twenty-three teams signed up to compete, with four teams placing and winning money. The SIS competition sponsor organization was Elevate Global, a company incubated at BYU and Stanford that partners with lending institutions to provide business management training and financial literacy education to micro and small-business operators in Latin America. Elevate Global helps these business operators gain practical knowledge, adopt simple management tools, and implement technology to improve their business practices and grow sustainably. The issue that Elevate presented for students to address was the challenge of scale, given that banking partners are usually slow to roll out Elevate’s educational program to more clients.

First-Place Team 

The team that took first place was made up of students from all over the world, who shared a connection to Latin America and a passion for helping others. Members included Jennifer Scherbel, a second-year MBA student studying entrepreneurship from Afton, Wyoming; Adam Trone, a second-year MBA student studying finance from Portland, Oregon; Thiago Prado, a second-year MBA student studying marketing strategy from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Cliff Hardle, a second-year MBA student studying strategy and innovation from West Valley City, Utah; and David Rodriguez, a second-year MBA student studying supply chain from Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Why Did These Students Participate in Y-Prize SIS?

When asked why he chose to participate, Cliff Hardle explained, “I recognized this competition as an opportunity to use the skills and methodologies that I was learning in class. It was a problem I typically would not work on in normal life, so it seemed interesting and different.” Jennifer Scherbel stated, “My reasoning was two-fold, one I wanted to help this company come up with new ideas on how to expand and service a new market. Second, it was an opportunity for me to work with a really cool and diverse group of people, which was fun."

What Was the Winning Solution?

Throughout the innovation process, this winning team really focused on listening to each other, brainstorming, and being open to new ideas. “We got a huge whiteboard, and just blasted a ton of ideas,” remembered Hardle. “It was really cool to see everyone throw up ideas influenced by their different backgrounds and life experiences, ideas I never would have come up with,” said Scherbel. “I put everything down I could think of,” said David Rodriquez, “the white board was full.” Following their brainstorming session, each team member researched an idea and then together they worked hard to eventually flush out three holistic but simple solutions that would be easily implementable to address the issue of scale. These three solutions included (1) a detailed plan to help Elevate focus on creating business commercial centers, where individuals could pay a little bit higher rent, but in return receive Elevate certification and training (2) the creation of a window sticker or placard that Elevators could put in business windows to show they were certified by Elevate, and inspire others to get certified as well, and (3) an expansion plan for Elevate’s already existing app that would allow some features to be accessible at no charge, providing an entry point for people to be introduced to Elevate.

What Did the Winners Learn?

As part of the nature of the Ballard Center, any student from any major is allowed to participate in the competition. Naturally, this brings together diverse groups of students with different strengths and weaknesses - a perfect culture for growth and learning. Scherbel spoke to this point when she said, “It was powerful to see the personalities of team members all come together. SIS, for me, was a competition that not only created impact for others, it also was time well spent with a team. My team members and I are all really good friends because of it and never would have been without it.” She gained a network of like-minded people and was reminded, “It’s important to listen, not just focus on getting the job done.” Rodriguez said of his experience, “Being an international student I sometimes feel out of place, out of my element, but seeing a project like this helped me see how I can contribute with my business degree and my background. I feel like I really can have an impact here!” Hardle concluded, “This was an opportunity for me to experiment with different opportunities and to practice design thinking. Ultimately, I learned that we could do some pretty impactful things with little to no capital.”

What Was Elevate’s Response?

When asked what he thought of the winning solutions, James Oakes, Elevate’s VP of Marketing, said, “the ideas were well thought out, grounded in data, well presented and provide us with a viable option to create another source of business operators who we can train in order to reach the scale we want to achieve.” After the Y Prize event, Elevate began exploring some of the group's proposed ideas. Elevate is continuing to network to find partners. They are seeking vendors that offer services besides banking and  local owners of retail spaces to offer the Elevate training to a new market of local entrepreneurs.

To Learn more about SIS, visit sisc.byu.edu.

The winning team
The winners were awarded $3,000.
The Winning Team
The winning team of Jennifer Scherbel, Adam Trone, Thiago Prado, Cliff Hardle, and David Rodriguez.

Media Contact: Alicia Gettys (801) 422-5283
Writer: Ballard Center