Amid the feelings of both chaos and isolation during the recent COVID-19 outbreak, sixty-six New Mexicans submitted their innovative ideas to help the local economy recover.
Bernalillo County, Nusenda Credit Union, UNM Innovation Academy and the Sandia Labs' Center for Collaboration and Commercialization (C3) came together to offer funding for the best of these innovative ideas to help address the immediate and long-term economic impacts of COVID-19 in our community.
Pitch In – New Mexico’s Social Enterprise Challenge provided an opportunity for anyone in the state to pitch their ideas for a chance to win cash prizes from a prize pool of $15,000 and receive follow-on support from economic development professionals.
“It was such an amazing effort for all of these organizations to come together in just a couple of days to put something like this together. The ability to cut through red tape and find a way to support people in our community with great ideas to help their fellow New Mexicans was refreshing. It is great to know that the pillars of our community are so committed to making a difference.” Said Robert G. DelCampo, Executive Director of the UNM Innovation Academy
Entries were judged via a 90-second, single-take video pitch.
“We had some really great entries, ideas ranging from helping the food service industry recover to ways that New Mexico can adapt the COVID-19 testing process to help shorten the social-distancing timeframe and stop a resurgence,” said David Kistin of the Sandia Labs’ Center for Collaboration and Commercialization (C3)
The first-place entry and winner of $7,500, from Heather Canavan and her team at ScrubHub ABQ, gave an overview of their innovative idea: “Our team has come up with a rapid COVID-19 response to fabricate and transport personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer produced by local distilleries with the help of community volunteers," said Tye Martin, one of the team members. The team came up with a multifaceted idea to produce 3D printed personal protective equipment using printers provided by UNM laboratories, provide sanitizer produced locally, and transport these supplies around the state with the help of stipend-supported volunteers.
The other winners, who each received $2,500 were Kelsey Molo, with her plan to create a hunger relief fund where unused shelf-stable items could be bought back from the public to help stock local food banks, Ashok Ghosh with a rapid COVID-19 test idea, and Andrew Wantuch, whose idea is a Gift Card Collective (ABQGC) to assist local businesses in regaining customer support after the stay-at-home order is lifted. “ABQGC enables the community to support their favorite local businesses and their employees in these difficult times,” he said.
Ghosh added, “Early diagnosis of coronavirus can mean the difference between life and death for thousands, since early detection can help people more effectively seek medical attention. Our technology group developed a simple and innovative early diagnostic kit for coronavirus, using a ventilator to determine if air pressure in a patient’s lungs shows signs of decreased compliance associated with coronavirus-associated pneumonia.”
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity to help support our community and local businesses with this prize money. Thank you to the Innovation Academy, Sandia National Labs, Nusenda, and Bernalillo County for making this possible,” said Molo.
The combined resources of the partners seeks to move many of these idea toward implementation in addition to the prize money. Lonnie Talbert, chair, Bernalillo County Commission added, "Seeing so many of these fantastic ideas come together, especially within a short time frame, is a true testament to the dedication and creativity of those in our community. This Social Enterprise Challenge highlights the fact that New Mexicans are bright and resilient, and I am very much looking forward to seeing these solutions come to life."
It is the hope of the contest organizers that winners will take the funding awarded to them, and the support offered, to build these ideas into a reality that will benefit the local economy as soon as possible with the full effects of the COVID-19 shutdown part of our current reality.
“We are pleased to participate in supporting innovative ideas and solutions to address our community’s needs,” said Nusenda CEO and President Joe Christian. “We appreciated the diversity of inspiring pitches that responded to the immediate needs of the COVID-19 crisis, such as improving food security, and those that focused on long-term durable solutions like accelerating testing access.”