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Teaching Refugees, Instant Smoothies Garner Top Awards At Innovation Challenge

Casey Myers  pitching

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: Casey Myers pitching "OneDigitalWorld" at the Fowler Global Innovation Challenge at the University of San Diego, May 3, 2019.

Think of the reality TV show “Shark Tank,” where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to a panel of experts — except the ideas have to be "sustainable." The Fowler Global Innovation Challenge is like that. And last weekend, students from the University of San Diego pitched their proposals to win a cash investment.

This year’s winners were “Re:Fresh Smoothies,” pitched by Austin Hersh, and “OneDigitalWorld,” pitched by Casey Myers and Momo Bertrand.

“Re:Fresh Smoothies” takes “ugly” produce from farms, freeze-dries it, grinds it to a powder and then puts it in a packet. Throw the packet contents in a blender with ice and water and you get an instant smoothie.

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Austin Hersh showing an example of the different produce for his "Re:Fresh Smoothie" idea at the Fowler Global Innovation Challenge at the University of San Diego, May 3, 2019.

“What I’m trying to do is curb the food waste issue in America,” said Hersh. “Also, I drink a smoothie everyday. And it was really annoying to have to get different ingredients from the pantry, and the freezer, and the fridge and have like six bags out. So I wanted a solution where I could get all of the ingredients in one package.”

OneDigitalWorld and the Global Refugee Crisis

Second place winners Casey Myers and Momo Bertrand took home $3,000, and an additional $1,000 for winning the audience choice award.

Myers said she quit her job last year and went to Lesbos, Greece to volunteer at the refugee camps there. “OneDigitalWorld” is an education program that, Myers said, teaches refugees skills they need to thrive after resettlement.

“They get to learn language skills, and digital literacy," Myers said about the idea. "On the first day of class they get to build their own working computer from scratch. At the end of the program in 3 weeks they will earn certificates from Microsoft, LinkedIn, and their first college transcripts from the University of San Diego; so they’re prepared with a portfolio to show employers to get started working, and become self-sufficient right away.”

Myers said she’s leaving for Greece next month. Both Momo Bertrand with “OneDigitalWorld” and Austin Hersh with “Re:Fresh Smoothies” are set to represent USD at the global version the Innovation Challenge in June.

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Ana María Domínguez Oquendo asked the audience to raise their hands if they remembered their first piggy bank during her pitch at the Fowler Global Innovation Challenge at the University of San Diego, May 3, 2019.

The Innovation Challenge started in 2011, and its origins start with Patricia Márquez, the Dean of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace And Justice. She said she started talking to donors after a group of students asked her how they could present their ideas. She said the vision of the Innovation Challenge is to create a new generation of entrepreneurs that pursue a social goal.

“We definitely have made progress,” said Márquez. “And we’re seeing examples even in San Diego. One of our winners in 2012, Teresa Smith, she has a food truck providing all kinds of services for the homeless.”

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