Sustainable business challenges can be an opportunity for students

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Companies reaching out to the public to get new ideas and input through competitions is not a new concept. However, with sustainability becoming the key word of the last decade, companies with a focus on being environmentally and socially friendly have started up more and more challenges in which participants’ ideas and creations are judged equally on innovation and sustainability.

One recent example is the Novex Challenge, brought to life by Novex Couriers, a local same-day courier in the Lower Mainland. The company has a strong focus on reducing its ecological footprint and maximizing its social impact. This challenge invites participants to submit an environmentally or socially sustainable idea that will solve a real problem. It aims to find a solution to an observed problem that has a large market of customers ready and willing to pay. The deadline for submissions on the official website is Oct. 31 before midnight.

Novex brought this challenge to life because of industry changes over the last three decades. “We don’t pretend to be up-to-date with all the opportunities and forward-thinking ideas, and yet, we run a solid and progressive business in this space. We need to reach out to the next generation thinkers and hopefully be implementers of the best ideas out there,” says Robert Safrata, CEO of Novex Couriers.

“We hope to receive many ideas and meet many fledgling entrepreneurs through the challenge. I hope the challenge will capture the imagination of many and they will be excited by Novex’s openness to change and spearheading the next great concept … The winner will win at least $2,500 and, depending upon their skills and availability, they could become lead team members in developing the idea.”

Companies start business challenges for many reasons. Heather Ranson, associate director of UVic’s Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation (CSSI), outlines three reasons companies start environmental contests “First, they want to engage students. Getting them involved in the organization forces them to get to know the organization and its products or services better.”

Ranson says students also bring new ideas to the table. “Companies often develop new products or services based on ideas that come from outside the organization. These contests are a way to get a better-developed idea. Instead of being written on the back of a napkin, contest entries are often supported with financials and a marketing plan.” She says publicity is the third factor in these contests. “The contest gives the company something new to talk about.”

The Novex Challenge is not the only contest that gives students a chance to prove their potential. The Martlet has already reported on the ongoing EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future competition as well as the Walmart Green Student Challenge, to name two.

Business challenges also take on other forms of social responsibility. One example is the 10th Annual Food Bank Challenge for the Mustard Seed Food Bank, which has companies in the technology sector compete in collecting the highest number of food donations. The Victoria Advanced Technology Council (VIATeC) runs this challenge, which is, according to Ranson, an opportunity to do something that gives back to the community. It also allows industry rivals to best each other. UVic participates in the Food Bank Challenge, but the Gustavson School of Business has additionally created its own in-house challenge.

“The Gustavson School of Business participates, and we have our BCom students competing against each other and our MBA students and our faculty to generate the most food. The certificate we produce for the winners is almost inconsequential. The real prize is the good feeling we have when we see all the food and tally all the money that was donated,” says Ranson.

According to Ranson, it makes sense for students to participate in a challenge when it fits their personal interests or their field of study. Contests can give students the opportunity to check out different employers and find out if that company holds promise for them as a potential future workplace after graduation.

Participating in a contest can help students gain experience. “While there is no guarantee a winning idea will see the light of day — sometimes they end up too expensive, impossible to run etc. — having the experience, from the research, to developing the idea, to presenting it to a panel of judges, is the best prize, and usually worth the time and effort,” states Ranson.

Photo courtesy of Natural Step Online via Flickr Creative Commons. 

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