Moldovan students to compete in university’s Diamond Challenge
As many high school students begin to prepare for college, a handful of aspiring entrepreneurs from Moldova have set their aims higher as they compete in a real world business concept challenge.
The Diamond Challenge, which was established last year by the University of Delaware Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, is an entrepreneurial contest for high school students. This year, preliminary rounds were held in four states and two international locations, including Kenya and Moldova, says Director of the Horn Program Dan Freeman.
One of this year’s winning ideas, conceptualized by two Moldovan students, includes a bicycle business that would provide local employment opportunities in Moldova.
“The competition was created when the program recognized the need for a way to ‘engage high school students and expose them to entrepreneurship as a viable career path,’” Freeman says.
In September, members of a non-governmental organization, Invento, worked hard to create Diamond Challenge Moldova, which would support teams for a chance to compete at the competition in Delaware later this year, says Patrick Miller, a Peace Corps volunteer involved with the program.
Each team works closely with a team adviser as well as a mentor, like Miller, who helps manage the project and encourages university students to get involved.
“University students can continue to reach out to their younger, motivated peers,” Miller stated in an email. “Being part of their personal networks and becoming mentors for students is invaluable to their learning and growth.”
Teams receive one-on-one consultation from their mentors, who are trained in business. Mentors teach teams the process of bringing new ideas to the marketplace, Freeman says.
The first Diamond Challenge Moldova was held earlier this month in Chisinau, Moldova, Miller says. Out of the 48 teams that competed in the competition, 14 teams advanced to the final round to present their business ideas to a panel of judges.
This year’s winners are Tamara Ceaicovschi and Tudor Petrici of Grozesti, Moldova with their bicycle project. Their business plan proposes a partnership with Pedals for Progress, a non-profit organization, which according to Freeman, would donate 500 used bikes to the winning team to provide local employment opportunities. Other finalists included a mushroom distributor and private sanitation agency.
Finalists from Diamond Challenge Moldova are currently looking for support to help finance their trip to Delaware, which includes plane tickets, lodging and other travel expenses, Miller says.
The Diamond Challenge was developed by a coalition of partners dedicated to providing high school students with new opportunities, says Miller. According to the program’s website, students compete in teams comprised of two to four people and submit written proposals for new businesses and social enterprises. Teams then deliver investor pitches and answer questions about their proposal.
Winners are chosen based on their ability to demonstrate a strong understanding of local problems in their community as well the ability to propose viable solutions, Miller says.
University students interested in entrepreneurship have praised the program for the opportunities it provides. Sophomore leadership major, Olivia Curzi, says similar opportunities were not available at her high school.
“I think such a challenge would have opened my mind to entrepreneurship and to thinking more creatively,” Curzi says.
According to the Horn Program’s website, the program seeks to “foster innovation and entrepreneurship by providing world-class educational opportunities and serving as a catalyst for the entrepreneurial ecosystem.” The program recently revealed the Venture Development Center, an entrepreneurial hub that promotes entrepreneurial studies, the website says.
Freeman says that on April 30, the Horn Program will host its second annual Diamond Challenge at the university and award $25,000 in prizes to the top teams. An additional prize is awarded to the team with the greatest social impact, he says. Freeman says past proposals have ranged from pressure-sensitive braking systems to cookie and photography businesses.
Freeman says the competition teaches creativity, problem solving and analytical and written communication skills. Winning teams can use the prize money to implement their proposals or elect to use it as scholarship funding for higher education, he adds.
Miller says The Diamond Challenge has also partnered with Start Up Africa, a local organization that focuses on development issues in Kenya and other countries in Africa. This is the second year that students from Kenya have competed in the challenge, he says.
Freeman says he hopes to expand the competition further next year and have a global impact.
“The prize money for top teams is nice, but the knowledge, skills, and connections all students will gain from participation is even better,” Freeman says.