Soka Students Are Winners at UCI New Venture Competition

June 01, 2021
Team Circular pitches concept via online platform
Members of team Circular, from left, Caleb Finn, Sara Estevez, Soka's Anjan Rana Magar ’23, and Nathaniel Jackson present during the New Venture Competition finals.

Soka students’ innovative thinking and commitment to social responsibility made them winners at UC Irvine’s annual startup competition.

The Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UC Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business is a hub of activity, education, and networking for entrepreneurs and innovators. Each year it hosts a startup competition in which students, staff, researchers, and community members form teams and compete for $100,000 in cash prizes and professional services.

This year’s New Venture Competition drew 85 teams and SUA students participated on teams that swept the top three places in the semifinals of the Social Enterprise category. Two teams advanced to the finals and finished in first and second place in the group.

Anjan Rana Magar ’23, who is concentrating on Environmental Studies, was a member of the winning project, Circular, which received a $7,500 award for its idea to disrupt the cycle of food waste and hunger.

Magar, the startup’s environmental director, joined with a UC Irvine facilities engineer and two UCI MBA students, to develop a service that picks up food waste from restaurants, composts the waste with earthworms, and uses to it fertilize a vertical farm growing organic produce, which is then distributed back to its partner restaurants.

Four Soka students developed the idea for second-place winner, Tooke Fabrics, which proposes creating sustainable fabric from raw materials used in banana production. The team — Anthea Mudanye ’23, Anthony Eduafo ’23, Hamza Ibrahim ’23, and Emmanuel Fiagbe ’24 — received $2,500 from the UCI competition. The team previously won $1,000 in Soka’s Impactathon in January.

Tooke Fabrics aims to replace cotton fiber with the stems of banana plants. Banana plants require less water, are grown without chemical fertilizers, and emit much less carbon dioxide. Tooke, named for the Luganda word for banana, would employ Ugandan women to make the more sustainable fabric.

Another Soka entrant, Marlen Riviere’s Bconomy, finished third in the New Venture Competition’s semifinals, ahead of seven other entrants. Riviere, who concentrated on International Studies and graduated this year, is continuing work on a concept to create an opportunity for Black-owned businesses and conscious consumers to connect through an online app and website platform.

“Witnessing the personal and professional growth of these Soka students as they embraced the demands of the competition workshops was beyond inspiring,” said Mary Patrick Kavanaugh, director of Soka’s Bridges to Business program, which helps students and alumni connect their liberal arts education into the world of social impact, entrepreneurship, and business.

“They moved through their doubts, fears, and overloaded schedules like true changemakers,” Kavanaugh said. In addition to their academic workload, they attended UCI workshops, dreamt up ideas that have measurable social impact, built teams, practiced with mentors, and pitched concepts to investors.

“Anyone watching the final pitches could see that they also infused them with humor and enthusiasm,” she said. “Congratulations to Tooke Fabrics and Circular for winning startup funding, and a special shout out to Bconomy for coming so close.”

—Nagisa Smalheiser ’21