Global Social Innovation Lab (GSIL) 2018 Tackles Global Hunger and Food Security

Do you believe ideas have the power to change the world? Do you think you can make a change that can solve one of the world’s greatest challenges – one innovation at a time?   – GSIL Call to Action

From Friday, November 16th, to Sunday, November 18th, 36 students interviewed panel experts, received guidance from mentors, and designed, tested, and pitched creative solutions in response to this year’s GSIL challenge:

How might we feed a world of 8.5 billion sustainably and healthily by 2030?

Friday night opened with a creative icebreaker that gave students a chance to respond to the objectives by expressing their personal motivations through creative Lego symbolism.  This exercise served as a warm-up also for the prototyping of designs that would take place later in the Lab.

GSIL - Don Undeen and Jack Borkowski - Friday Night Ice Breaker

The way the students thought about prototyping as a mechanism for conveying their ideas was impressive. The winning team created a lego model that will be displayed in the Maker Hub Museum. – Don Undeen, Maker Hub Manager and GSIL Mentor and Donor Partner.

One of GSIL’s first panel speakers from the startup food space was an alumnus of the McDonough School of Business, Noobtsaa Philip Vang, who spoke about the operations and mindset behind Foodhini, his mission-oriented authentic multicultural meal delivery service.  Students had the opportunity to take to the stage and personally engage with him in a Q&A session about Foodhini’s supply chain.

Noobstaa Philip Vang Responding to Philip Hussey's Questions

The guest speakers, mentors, and other students at GSIL all brought different perspectives and ideas that made my time at the lab unique from any of my coursework or extracurriculars. – Emily Arden, MBA ’20.

In addition to giving participants an introduction to global social innovation, design, prototyping, pitching, and TED-talk style lectures from subject-matter experts and social ventures – GSIL students also received attention from mentors and experts in the field of food security for questions, testing hypotheses, supporting the design process, and wrestling with assumptions.  The GSIL by design drew students from undergraduate and graduate programs and from disciplines ranging from international development to business, science, and communications/culture/technology to leverage diverse assets and expertise for robust collaboration and impactful social venture design.

Matt Fortier - GSIL Friday

That the student participants had access to an array of mentors and subject matter presenters throughout the course of the Lab meant that they were constantly learning as they ideated, prototyped, and tested their solutions. – Matt Fortier, Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation and GSIL Mentor and Donor Partner.

Other mentors and speakers that advised GSIL participants include: Liz Master (Union Kitchen), Fiona Macaulay (Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation), Nic Bash (HoneyFlower Foods), Alex Cohen (TwentyTables), Colin Christensen (One Acre Fund); Bill Guyton (Specialty Chocolate Association); Elle Carberry (Georgetown University); Parmesh Shah (World Bank); Brian Bedard and Akhila Vasan (GMA Science Education Foundation); Drew Di Prinzio (Fulbright Scholar); Rehana Nathoo (Spectrum); Don Undeen (Maker Hub); Alyssa Lovegrove (Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative); Rosie O’Neil (Landegger International Business Diplomacy Program); Jonathan Healey (Ethics Lab at Kennedy Institute of Ethics); Derek Byerlee and Holly Wise (Global Human Development Program).

Before Friday’s program concluded, each student provided a 1-minute pitch based on a pre-existing curiosity or concept they wanted to work on that weekend.  Voting brought the top 9 concepts to the head of the pitch pile, and the student teams were formed. Each team was then assigned a “headquarters” where they were to begin devising their project plans for the rest of the weekend.

GSIL - Students Working

The Global Social Innovation Lab was an incredible experience! The opportunity to work with students from across the university on an issue like food security demonstrated the power of developing multi-sectoral partnerships when building solutions. – Araba Sapara-Grant, GHD ‘19.

Saturday’s program saw student teams back at Georgetown early and eager to experiment with their concepts.  In between team work sessions, students were again treated to industry expert speakers.  Ann Yang, co-founder of Misfit Foods and recently named one of Forbes Magazine’s 2018 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, was one of the speakers who digitally conversed with the students over lunch to share her founder story and how Misfit Foods is tackling the issue of food waste.

Ann Yang - GSIL Saturday - Misfit Foods

The Social Innovation Lab was an incredible opportunity to challenge my limits and explore a side of food security and development that was completely foreign to me. – Marco Paternoster, B.S. Environmental Biology ’19.

The Global Social Innovation Lab was an incredible experience! The opportunity to work with students from across the university on an issue like food security demonstrated the power of developing multi-sectoral partnerships when building solutions. - Araba Sapara-Grant, GHD ‘19.

I especially enjoyed the creative aspects of the pitch development, as my team and I had never been to the Maker Hub before. It felt like a safe space where we could run through different concepts with many tools available to us. – Emma Edwards, GHD ‘20.

After two quick and action-packed days, all 9 teams pitched a wide range of innovations and ideas to the judges – from .vendo, a street food vendor accelerator that equips and mobilizes food entrepreneurs; to Preserve Corps, whose mission was to tackle the large amounts of farm produce that are lost each year through a produce dehydration apparatus; to Madzi, an independent organization focused on collecting and consolidating irrigation data for small-holder farmer consultations.

Judging the pitches were Sheila Herrling, Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation Fellow; Erwin Tiongson, Professor in the Practice of International Affairs and Concentration at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service; and Jonathan Healey, Assistant Director of the Ethics Lab at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics. Each judge brought with them a wealth of experience in their various fields and evaluated each team on their presentation and prototype, as well as team dynamics and project feasibility.


By definition, entrepreneurship is something you can learn, but it isn’t really something you can learn out of a book.  It’s something you can only learn by practicing. So a lot of the activities are around getting people to try stuff and evaluate what they’re learning. – Alyssa Lovegrove, Associate Director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and GSIL Mentor and Donor Partner.

Rosie O'Neil and GSIL students

I really enjoyed how open the students were to being challenged on their assumptions and preliminary plans and to think more deeply about what they were constructing. I thought that was really impressive.  – Rosie O’Neil, Director of the International Business Diplomacy Certificate and GSIL Mentor and Donor Partner.

The first-place prize went to the Hydro Bunch team, whose innovative take on scaling hydroponics had them branded as “the WeWork of hydroponics.” Though hydroponics (a method of growing plants without soil by using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent) has been hailed as an innovative response to the domestic fruit production crisis threatening the United States, it is expensive and difficult to scale, limiting its effectiveness. The Hydro Bunch team proposed a combination large-scale hydroponics farm and incubator in which entrepreneurial farmers would work and grow together to develop the future of sustainable produce production. Their proposed solution differed from existing hydroponic greenhouses as it would dedicate half its space to community access and support for the growth of non-traditional hydroponic greenhouse crops, while the other half of its space would be used as “lab” spaces  for university research initiatives, food entrepreneurs, and other parties looking to innovate in the hydroponic space.

GSIL - Hydrobunch Team
First-Place: Phillip Hussey (MBA ’19), David Kowalsky (MBA ’20), Annie Buckley (GHD ’19), and Marco Paternoster (B.S. Environmental Biology ’19).

More than just the pitches and presentations, as judges we were looking at team dynamics and how the teams worked together. It was great to see that each team had a balanced workload and every team member was included in the work. – Erwin Tiongson, Professor in the Practice of International Affairs and Concentration, SFS.

In second place was the Magic Mushroom team, whose project was focused on the challenge of post-harvest loss. Their innovative solution involved the use of biodegradable packaging made from mushrooms crops to reduce the damage done to crops by poor handling and transportation in sub-Saharan Africa. After thoroughly considering the value of other packaging methods such as wood and plastic crates, Team Magic Mushroom came up with the idea of using crates made from Mycelium as a form of packaging that is durable, biodegradable, anti-microbial, water-resistant, and light-weight. Their thoroughly researched pitch included a detailed plan of how the labor-unintensive mycelium could be produced from mushrooms and used to transport produce such as tomatoes with minimum damage to the crops.

Second place team
Second-place: Ben Simmons-Telep (GHD ’19), Jack Borkowski (GHD ’20), Emily Arden (MBA ’20),  Nakshidil Sadien (MSFS ’19).

The Urban Roots team took third place with their grassroots approach to solving food distribution inefficiencies in Brazilian favelas. With malnutrition affecting 60% of Brazil’s urban poor, Urban Roots presented a prototype of sack garden growth kits as the solution to the lack of affordable, accessible, nutritious, fresh produce for favela dwellers. The design of the sack kits allow for growth of different vegetables inside the sack all year round, thus allowing families to grow nutritious produce in limited spaces right by their homes. With detailed information on pricing structures of the kits and the sustainability of the initiative, Team Urban Roots made a compelling case for their small-scale solution to urban malnutrition.

Urban Roots Team Photo - GSIL
Third-place: Rebecca Heeb (GHD ’19), Francine Fernandez (GHD’19), Gayatri Pillai (GHD ’19), Amina Acosta (GHD ’19).
It was thrilling to see all 9 teams working feverishly to design solutions to real global challenges.  They learned human-centered design, prototyping and pitching by doing, with support from amazing hands-on mentors, inspiration from practitioners, and feedback from judges. The social ventures ‘birthed’ over the GSIL weekend are truly impressive! – Holly Wise, GHD Professor and Director, Social Enterprise and Innovation Fellows Program.

While the entire weekend is meant to spur the imagination and ideation experience, all 36 students left GSIL invigorated to continue the development of their social ventures.  GSIL is excited to see how the winning teams use their prize money to take their concepts to the next level throughout 2019.  Click to see a video on last year’s 2017 GSIL Competition.

Special thanks go to our sponsors, mentors, panelists, and judges for making this year’s GSIL a success.