Impactathon Offers Inspiration and Real-World Lessons for Soka Students
More than 30 Soka students in this year’s Impactathon began the business pitch competition with ice breakers, including a prompt to brainstorm what they could create with candy and plastic toys. Then they formed teams that spent three days planning a business that would address at least one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. SUA’s partnership with author, entrepreneur, and founder of Impactathon, Neetal Parekh, began in 2018 to help students interested in social impact entrepreneurship develop and pitch ideas.
Students got a dose of inspiration and real-world lessons from three social impact founders, including Soka alumna Nandini Puri ‘14 and co-founder Andrew Bawdon of Beej Farms, a spice company that champions regenerative agriculture. Former Impactathon participant Elizabeth Muthoni ‘20 was also on hand to share her continuing journey working in the social impact sector.
SUA’s Director of Special Projects Mary Patrick Kavanaugh, shown below talking with the competition’s judges, said this year’s competition was the largest yet. “Impactathon is a fast-paced, quick dive into design thinking, problem-solving, and pitching very early-stage ideas,” she said. “I think of this as the part of creation when you’re putting little seeds in a Dixie cup and soil and just sprouting the ideas. Impactathon helps students break down problems and pitch solutions without having time to start thinking the ideas aren’t good enough.”
A team led by Alice Nguyen ’25 addresses issues related to sustainable fashion during their pitch to Impactathon’s judges. Alon Doron of Electrified Solutions Electric, Sheetal Parekh of Koyal Wholesale, entrepreneur and author Samantha Broxton, and Arpit Garg of Erez Capital offered constructive feedback as they evaluated the ventures.
Team Green Table, a venture that repurposes restaurant cooking oil into soap, celebrates after being named the first-place winner of Impactathon. They will continue to learn about social impact entrepreneurship and work with Kavanaugh and a network of volunteer entrepreneur mentors to develop a venture that they can pitch at the annual Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge this May. All the participants benefited from learning that entrepreneurs only find out if something works by trying it. “Impactathon is so much fun and students feel so strong and capable at the end,” said Kavanaugh.