(Photo via facebook.com/fulphil.philadelphia)
About two days before his semester ended at Drexel University a few years ago, Evan Ehlers realized he had about 50 swipes left on his meal plan.
So he brought two large bins to the dining hall, exhausted the swipes for as much food as possible and distributed it in Center City.
“It was the single most transformative day of my entire life,” Ehlers said. “I feel like I actually got more than I actually gave.”
A couple years later, that off-the-cuff idea has grown into Sharing Excess, an organization that empowers university students to fight hunger in their communities.
Enter: Fulphil, a local impact organization that seeks to support university students who are developing social enterprises, like Ehlers, by connecting students to networks of mentors and resources that allow them to measure their impact and test their ideas.
On Saturday, the org will host Smart Impact, its first competition. Six social enterprise startups will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, and the winner of each category — nonprofit and for-profit — will receive a $3,000 prize.
Sharing Excess will be competing in the nonprofit category. The other five startups are:
- Emergency Information Systems, which uses systems to better inform first responders as they arrive on the scene to emergencies
- GLOME, which assists people going through the refugee resettlement process
- InstaHub, an invention that attaches to light switches and helps save energy
- inventorspaceXYZ, which seeks to educate children through hands-on, innovative methods
- LawDecoder, a free service that helps people understand their legal issues
The point of the event is to “challenge university students to solve the question of ‘Can we fulfill the pressing social problems of Philadelphia?’” said Tiffany Yau, the founder and CEO of Fulphil and one of 12 honorees on Generocity’s 2018 Leader List.
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Smart Impact is the beginning of Fulphil’s first annual cycle of events, which is meant to highlight and support students’ startup ideas through monetary prizes and platforms to discuss their ideas. The theme of the cycle’s culminating finale next September will be announced on Saturday, Yau said.
At the competitions, the teams will be judged for factors like impact, feasibility and scalability.
Saturday’s judges will be Dhairya Pujara, the founder and CEO of YCenter, a global educational enterprise; Garrett Melby, an impact investor and GoodCompany Ventures’ cofounder and executive director; Sam Woods Thomas, a business development manager for the city’s Department of Commerce; and Yuri Seung, who works for the Wharton Social Impact Initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Uplifting students’ ideas empowers them to give back to Philadelphia, Yau said. Sharing Excess’ impact, for example, has been accelerated by Drexel’s support.
Ehlers was awarded $15,000 and six months of time to work on the organization through the university’s Entrepreneurship CO-OP last year. He said professors have also worked to create three independent study courses for him this semester so he has more time to focus on Sharing Excess.
And it’s paid off. He is currently working with Drexel’s administration to allow for excess meal swipes to be donated to food-insecure students. The organization’s Food Rescue Team partners with local restaurants, grocery stores and farmers to collect surplus food and transport it to hunger relief organizations. In about three months, it has transported nearly 13,000 pounds of food.
“If [students] have ambition to help something that is greater than themselves … I think those people need to be supported in all ways because those are the people that go on to change the world,” Ehlers said. “We need to support people who get their joy and get their happiness in life from helping others.”-30-
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