Responsible Impact Takes Center Stage at the 2023 Jacobson Global Venture Awards

A vibrant buzz filled the Lauder auditorium the morning of February 10th, as twenty-three teams prepared to present their business ventures to a panel of alumni. The Jacobson Global Venture Awards, established in 2017 by alumni Marina and Andrew Jacobson, allows students to share their entrepreneurial vision with their community, and compete for the chance to win $12,000 in funding to bring their project to life. After listening to each competitor’s 5-minute pitch, the judges, many of whom are prominent entrepreneurs, ask questions to probe the feasibility, structure, and potential impact of their idea.

This year, business ideas were international in scope, but deeply personal in nature. Students’ global mindset and desire to drive responsible innovation was inspiring and reflects the true spirit of the Lauder Institute’s joint-degree program. Above all, the strong community ties between students, alumni, and administrators highlighted the unparalleled level of nurturing and support amongst the Lauder family. This year’s Jacobson Global Venture Awards also connects with wider University of Pennsylvania efforts to secure a sustainable future for the world through research, teaching, and innovation.

A day of pitching at the 7th annual Jacobson Global Venture Awards

Solving the climate crisis

Environmental entrepreneurs play a critical role in combating climate change, despite often facing regulatory, financial, and capacity challenges. This year, three ventures took innovative approaches to building a greener future: Agro-Ponic Solutions Limited, Ecolab, and Project Green Swan. Founded by Colin Frederick and Kwesi Callander, Agro-Ponic Solutions Limited employs climate-smart agriculture strategies to expand arable land and deliver local produce. They have launched their solution in the form of a centralized mobile app in the Caribbean nation, Trinidad and Tobago.

Next, Shashank Singh presented his vision of using crop stubble waste to produce biomaterials, such as alternatives to Styrofoam and Thermocol. His business, Ecolab, empowers companies to reduce their carbon footprint across supply chains. Thirdly, Project Green Swan aims to provide capital and advisory to local developers in high-risk states. Masaki Goto, Ilia Beloly, and Mehrnoosh Aryanpour presented their vision of supporting local entrepreneurs in complex legal jurisdictions. Their mission to create meaningful change through green investments persuaded the judges, and Project Green Swan was named a winner of the competition.

Filling the education gap

The other recurring topic of the competition focused on solving fundamental education gaps. Connecting students with the resources to succeed is a challenging problem. Whether it is managing applications to one’s dream school or connecting with a future employer, students face a myriad of obstacles as they navigate academic responsibilities and external pressures. Research Group, Polaris Learning, Liquid MBA, and Re-trade are four innovative companies focused on helping students identify the best path forward. Piotr Dziadosz’s Research Group platform connects university students with Fortune 1000 companies. Since the Covid-19 pandemic revealed the possibility of an efficient remote-work model, Research Group has stepped in so that eager Ivy League students can provide ad hoc support to employers who require market research, translations, or assistance with other projects.

As students begin their job-search, another venture called Polaris Learning seeks to assist them in determining their ideal career path. Led by Rebecca Liu, Polaris provides recommendations for both employment and colleges, while informing users of estimated financial outcomes. Another venture, Liquid MBA, aims to level the playing field for business school applicants. Ben Chon, Eunice Ko, and Sam South have teamed up to provide video lessons, sample essays, and school-specific guidance to prospective students. While all three ideas were met with excitement, it was entrepreneur Graham Anderson’s vision to pair high schoolers with apprenticeships to alleviate the skilled worker shortage in the United States that emerged a winner. His company Re-trade embodies the Lauder difference of responsibly changing the world for the better. According to Graham, “unlike in traditional trade schools, Re-Trade employers pay, train, and hire the high schoolers. Re-trade further adds value by providing student success coaching and analytics.”

Providing access to essential services

Remaining teams proposed solutions in diverse sectors, but many highlighted the goal of democratizing access to traditionally rigid industries. From Islamic banking in the US to microfinance loans in Venezuela, teams put a spotlight on audiences that are too often ignored. One company, Koterie, aims to open access to real estate in the Middle East via a comprehensive digital platform. Founder Karim Stinner, a third winner of the Jacobson funding, explained that Koterie facilitates fractional ownership of institutional-grade commercial real estate securities. In his own words, “winning the competition is a great affirmation that we are on the right track with our offering. We are excited to take on this challenge and use this momentum to drive our platform towards greater success”.

The Lauder Difference

The surge in global uncertainty and complexities of modern problems calls for leaders to innovate and collaborate to pioneer responsible solutions and solve the most pressing global problems. Entrepreneurship is the engine that propels innovation, and the Jacobson Global Venture Awards highlights the Lauder commitment to developing outstanding leaders that seek to change the world for the better.

Overall, the competition demonstrated how this diverse generation of leaders are connected through both their dedication to sustainable growth and meaningful impact. Their entrepreneurial spirit will take them far, and all contestants will receive support from alumni mentors as they face new challenges.

Left to right: (Jacobson Judges) Rosanna Ramos-Velita, Annie Wang, Stephan Jacob, Michelle Larivee, Bart Swanson, Marina Jacobson, Allan Kwan

Congratulations to Project Green Swan, Re-trade, and Koterie for winning the 2023 Jacobson Venture Awards. The Lauder Institute thanks our extraordinary panel of judges and all participants for making the competition an enriching experience for all.

Written by Morgan Gilfond and Dr. Sudev Sheth