Competition focuses on natural disaster recovery

Photo courtesy of USC News

In response to the destruction caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria, as well as the earthquakes that struck Mexico during the past few months, the USC Viterbi Office of Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s annual Min Family Engineering Social Entrepreneurship Challenge will focus on creating prototypes that target natural disaster relief for 2018.

Established by alumnus Bryan Min and his wife Julie, the Min Family Challenge finds engineering solutions for societal problems through a student competition. Since late 2015, the competition has addressed issues related to poverty, the environment or health care — by bringing in students who serve as social engineers to develop technological solutions.

“Our students are an incredible resource and possess an enormous amount of energy and talent,” Vice Dean of Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Andrea Belz said in a press release. “This year’s challenge will apply their intellect and skill towards helping people who have immediate needs. This challenge will provide an unforgettable learning experience in conceiving of real-world solutions to improve lives of others.”

The challenge will kick off in November 2017, and teams of student engineers will have the opportunity to travel to Houston — which was recently impacted by Hurricane Harvey — for field research starting in the first week of January.  After identifying a specific problem in the community resulting from the summer storms, the participants will work on designing the solution.

Additionally, the students will attend six 90-minute workshops hosted by USC Viterbi’s Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Office and USC Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab.

These workshops will go over a range of topics, covering the basics of social entrepreneurship and customer discovery.

Over the following months, the teams will generate prototypes and business models for these solutions, and on March 28, the finalists will be featured in a showcase, where the winner of the challenge will be presented.

Projects in the past have included OptDx, a software that helps prevent blindness in premature babies through an automatic screening process, and 2016 winner FlexSpecs, which generated cost-friendly glasses with lenses that changed their shape and power with a touch of a dial.

Though the challenge has normally focused on serving those in need across the globe, the upcoming year’s theme will center on enhancing relief and recovery efforts in communities that were left devastated from recent natural disasters.

“This is the first year the challenge is focused on natural disaster relief,” said Alice Liu, Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Office assistant director. “And not just immediate relief, but the process of relief, recovery and rebuilding for the overall communities and the victims of these communities.”

Liu served as the game architect behind the challenge. By detailing more specific rules to the challenge that were tailored to the type of innovation the creators want to see, Liu was able to shape the theme of the 2018 challenge and set the guidelines for the participants when it comes to their prototypes.