Two groups of Cambridge Rindge and Latin students beat out some tough entrepreneurial competition Tuesday, sending nine high school students to Shanghai for a summit on social responsibility in the new global economy.
“I thought I was dreaming,” Samuelle Levy said still blotting tears of joy.
Levy’s team — along with 21 others — spent the weeks leading up last week’s finale of the Glocal Challenge coming up with ideas and crafting pitches that both addressed a local social issue and outlined a feasible business model.
EF Education First, a global, for-profit education company, put on the Glocal (Global + Local) Challenge for the second year with additional financial and mentoring support from Google. The challenge leads up to the Shanghai summit coming this March also put on by EF Education First.
The summit encourages students to reflect on their community and then attack problems in a global economy while touring China’s history and culture.
“This is what we believe education needs more of: Real world problem solving,” said Kate Berseth of EF Education First.
Last year at its debut in Costa Rica, the event featured former Vice President Al Gore. This year the event brings former U.S. Ambassador to Singapore and China Jon Huntsman, Jr.
Over the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s finale, the original 22 faded to 13 as groups dropped out of the competition. Those 13 then pitched Tuesday morning to judge panels featuring local entrepreneurs like Hubspot’s Laura Fitton, Bon-App founder Laurent Adamowicz, and other member of the local higher education and business communities.
Judges convened and decided on four finalists using scores they had given during the pitches and some qualitative deliberation.
Members of 4 Sweet Turn Arounds felt confident over a pizza lunch. Their business model involved opening a bakery in partnership with the Cambridge Transition House, which aids victims of domestic violence. They hoped to help victims by easing them back into a work environment at a pace determined by the victim.
The group found examples of similar business models elsewhere and felt that success was possible in Cambridge.
“At first we were really nervous because we didn’t know if the judges would like our pitch. But now we’re more confident,” said Levy after the morning round of pitches.
Another group, Cambridge Secure, planned to make money by registering bicycles and establishing a return program in partnership with the Cambridge Police Department. The group saw potential in a cited near 50 percent recovery rate on stolen bikes, only 10 percent of which are returned to their owners.
“I think there’s some stiff competition. But I think our idea is feasible and we have a good shot,” said Cameron Chertavian of Cambridge Secure while munching on a slice.
Students moved to the auditorium where the winners of last year’s Glocal Challenge emceed and announced the four finalists.
With no time to alter their presentations students jumped right into their pitches, this time in front of eight new judges including State Rep. Tim Toomey (D-Cambridge), Career Services Director at Hult International Business School; James Morrison, founder of Impact Hub Boston; Geoff Mamlet; Cambridge Mayor Henrietta Davis; and representatives from Harvard, Google, EF Education First, and Cambridge Public Schools.
The judges asked tough questions and offered advice.
“How do you interact with the homeless workforce? How do you make that manageable?” asked Davis to the members of Metro Garden, a venture hoping to lift the homeless by employing and feeding them through urban agriculture.
Besides citing success stories in Goodwill and the New York Greystone Bakery, the group planned to partner with social services and had already done so with the Somerville-based community support organization Caspar Inc., said Metro Garden member Sarah Lipset.
After each group presented for five minutes and judges asked their questions, the panel moved to the glamorous clandestine deliberation area: The auditorium stairwell. They debated the merits of each group and were reassured by Shawna Sullivan, EF Education First’s director of public affairs, that although only two win a trip to the summit, many groups pursue and even put into action their plans.
Eventually the judges picked 4 Sweet Turn Arounds and Metro Gardens as the competition winners.
But as Sullivan said, the competition can have multiple end results. Even before the final four were announced — at pizza time — some students were already thinking implementation.
“We were talking with the principal. We’re going to implement it,” said Eric Chan.
His group, Mass Achieve, which made it to the final four but did not win, created a business model to employ high school students as tutors for younger students.
Chan and his group may have missed the trip to Shanghai, but they weren’t kidding about the implementation.
When a school principal wants to talk in the hallway, it is typically bad news. But for the members of Mass Achieve, Cambridge Rindge and Latin Principle Damon Smith’s news was just the opposite.
After seeing their first round pitch Smith wanted a sit-down to work out an action plan for the group’s idea.
“There’s a wealth of understanding and experience that younger people have. But what [Mass Achieve] did is incentivize it,” said Smith, “If there’s financial incentive it puts accountability on the tutor’s part.”
Though other groups may proceed by bringing their ideas to fruition the scope of an event like this is still limited in its reach to one school in the eye of the bountiful hurricane of innovation, tech and educational power that is Cambridge, MA.
Kate Berseth is well aware.
“Our global mission is about preparing students for success in the twenty first century,” said Berseth. “We would like to figure out how to create a model that makes it easy for other schools to follow. Glocal in a box. Wouldn’t that be wonderful,” she said.
In the meantime, nine high schoolers get to fly to Shanghai for that coveted life-changing experience.