Three U teams in Acara finals

The competition is an international food security challenge to help India, where winners will get to implement their ideas.

Dina Elrashidy

Three University of Minnesota teams will compete in the finals for the Acara Challenge âÄî a competition among students to improve food security and the environment in India through practical business ideas âÄî in its fourth competition Friday.

âÄúA lot of students want to really help change the world,âÄù said Fred Rose, co-founder and CEO of the Acara Institute. âÄúThey want to have social relevancy and weâÄôre helping them to do that.âÄù

The program, supported by the Institute on the Environment, 3M and Honeywell, pitted University students against teams from Arizona State University, Cornell University, University of Cincinnati and the University of Hartford.

University teams have been working on the project since last fall through a course focused on sustainable development. All three teams that took the course last semester scored a spot in the final 12 out of more than 20 competing teams.

âÄúI always wanted to do something with sustainable development,âÄù materials science junior and finalist Kathryn Klarich said.

KlarichâÄôs team developed an idea for a food inspection and certification service business. This initiative would hire employees in India to work with street food vendors to improve food quality.

âÄúIn the U.S. we have the government to inspect food,âÄù Klarich said. âÄúIn India thereâÄôs a gap there.âÄù

Her team of six partnered with two students from a University in New Delhi.

Communication in different time zones was challenging for the team, Klarich said. Through Skype or Facebook, the team woke up early or stayed up late to talk to their counterparts in India.

âÄúIn the long run, the U.S.-India partnership worked because we brought such different skills and experiences,âÄù said Eric Svingen, a first-year graduate student and one of KlarichâÄôs partners. âÄúBut it took a lot of patience.âÄù

If chosen, the team will send two members to conduct an 8-week pilot study to test its ideas, Klarich said.

If that goes well, the team will fully launch the service in 2013, Svingen said.

A panel of food security and environment experts selects the winners in a similar way to how venture capitalists make decisions, said Julian Marshall, director of the Acara Challenge.

âÄúStudents are learning what it means to take off successfully after class,âÄù Marshall said.

Past winners of the program are in âÄúvarious stages of launchâÄù with their ideas, he said.

âÄúI think weâÄôd all like the path for a successful social entrepreneur to be a freeway,âÄù said Rose, the Acara co-founder. âÄúBut itâÄôs more like the traffic in India.âÄù

Some past students have continued on with their ideas while others did not, he said.

Acara will award up to eight scholarships to students for the Acara Summer Institute in Bangalore, India to allow winners to implement the ideas they developed.

At stake is up to $19,000 worth of awards and $16,000 in scholarships for the Acara Summer Institute in June, Rose said. Most of the award money will be matching what teams are able to raise.

âÄúThis is really a lot about leadership development,âÄù Rose said.