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What do the following have in common? A sustainable energy start-up that aims to provide clean energy access to 450 million people in India (while promoting sustainable local development); a beetle-mimicking bio-membrane that efficiently collects water from atmospheric air without using any energy; an app that harnesses behavioural economic insights to take on the global obesity epidemic; and a website extension that helps connect potential donors with charitable causes to which they might contribute?

Got it yet? They are all ideas that aim to make a huge ameliorative impact on the human race, while at the same time having the potential to make a profit. Accordingly, these Imperial College-based ideas were all chosen as winners of the Ideas to Impact Challenge in 2016 and 2017 – you can learn more about them on the Ideas to Impact microsite , as well as the competition itself.

The Ideas to Impact Challenge is an initiative of the Gandhi Centre for Inclusive Innovation at Imperial College Business School, as part of its mission to foster innovation for inclusive growth, embracing a multidisciplinary approach that encourages integrative collaboration across departments at Imperial College London.

This year, the competition seeks to bring together student teams from across the United Kingdom to present ideas to a panel of judges, with the winning teams given support  to help them take their idea to the next stage and maximizing chances of becoming a sustainable social business.

We are looking for big ideas – ideas that have the potential to change a million lives. It is run in conjunction with GAP (Global Action on Poverty, an initiative of Head Held High Foundation), an NGO that aims to catalyse the efforts of those fighting in diverse, innovative ways against poverty – individuals they refer to as 'Changemakers'. Their focus is very much on localised, actionable efforts.

There is a clear ethos behind Ideas to Impact, very much aligned with one of the main goals of the Gandhi Centre: the creation of social entrepreneurs to transform big societal ideas. And one of the key challenges we face in doing this is correcting the widely-held notion that having a social impact and making a profit are disparate if not contradictory concepts. That is simply not true: the two go very nicely hand-in-hand. There is no reason at all a social business cannot be a profitable exercise. Indeed, for such a business to survive and make a positive difference, it is necessary that it be able to financially sustain itself.

Famous examples of such businesses are Toms Shoes, which matches every pair of shoes sold with an equivalent donation to someone in need, and Lush cosmetics, which gives millions of dollars from the proceeds of its packaging-free sales to environmental causes. There are many, many less glamorous start-ups out there too, tackling issues like sanitation and energy on the front line.

Businesses have a very important role in solving societal issues in the developing world. We might even look at these challenges in the developing world as opportunities – opportunities which call for innovative, low-cost, scalable solutions. This is exactly the kind of challenge to which a hungry social entrepreneur would want to rise. While governments and NGOs certainly have a huge role to play, sometimes they simply do not have the resources or the expertise. This is, therefore, the place for entrepreneurs and business to step in to find solutions. "

"Do you want to change a million lives? Ideas to Impact invites submissions from student teams of three to four"

It is often the case, however, that the the scientists, engineers and doctors behind such life-changing innovations are not yet blessed with business acumen on top of their already numerous merits. Ideas to Impact seeks to help those with ideas overcome some of the major hurdles that exist between having a serious invention or innovation and it becoming a lasting and profitable business.

We are looking to make sure those with ideas are able to connect with others who are similarly motivated and capable of achieving amazing things in a multidisciplinary setting; we want to make sure they have guidance from those with a grounding in business, who will be able to ensure they can develop, sell and scale their innovations. Ultimately, we want to give those involved the capacity to become serial entrepreneurs, as these are often the people who are able to become the most successful and make the greatest impact.

Do you want to change a million lives? Ideas to Impact invites submissions from student teams of three to four (interuniversity collaboration is welcome), focusing on the following areas:

  • Financial inclusion
  • Agriculture
  • Education and skills
  • Digital
  • Healthcare and sanitation
  • Climate, water and energy

We are looking for the satisfaction of three main ideals: the idea should have the potential to impact the lives of a million people, it should propose a clear solution to a big societal challenge, and it must be sustainable. If your plan fulfils these criteria, then you will be given the opportunity to present your ideas to a panel of judges, in London on 23 March, who will assess them on those lines.

The successful team will receive resources and mentoring designed to take their idea to the next level, having the biggest possible impact while also seeing a return that will allow the business to sustain itself. These include: a seed fund to aid development of the idea; a fully-sponsored trip to GAP’s annual summit in India; the chance to work with GAP Changemakers in an intensive year-long programme; and mentorship from industry experts, GAP, and Imperial College London academics.

You can find out more about how to enter here. Entries open on 19 January and close on 12 February.

Idea to Impact Challenge Talk

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Sankalp Chaturvedi

About Sankalp Chaturvedi

Professor of Organisational Behaviour & Leadership
Dr Chaturvedi is Professor of Organisational Behaviour & Leadership at Imperial College Business School and leads the Gandhi Centre for Inclusive Innovation.

He holds a PhD from the NUS Business School, National University of Singapore, and previously completed a Master’s in Human Resource Development & Management from the Indian Institute of Technology.

Dr Chaturvedi’s research focusses on effective leadership, mindfulness, and collaboration mechanisms in teams, and he has published articles in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Organizational Behavior & Human Decision Processes, Strategic Management Journal, Leadership Quarterly and Journal of Management, among others.