Ugly fruits and beautiful clothes won the day at the US Embassy’s Start Up 4.0 at the headquarters of BGL BNP Paribas last week. 25 students from six schools across Luxembourg city got together to present their enterprise-based solutions to a host of social problems from here and afar. They wowed judges and audience alike to such an extent that many of the top prizes were shared, including the grand prize of a trip to the United States to attend a pitching camp.
The grand prize winners were Maxime Lorenzoni and Therese Von Roesgen from Lycée Aline Mayrisch, the creators of Fruityful, and Gianni Di Paoli and Lele Jules Yin from Lycée Robert-Schuman, who came up with the idea for Wardlendo.
The students had all attended a week-long series of workshops in February this year, led by American entrepreneurial guru Sheena Lindahl. Over the course of the evening, it was clear to see just how deeply she had gone with them into how to approach a problem and conceptualise a solution as the student’s presentations integrated everything from SWOT analyses to market research, marketing plans, background research, financials, mission and vision statements to sustainability and more. With only five minutes in which to present their ideas, the pitches were remarkably comprehensive.
As was the range of problems the students chose to tackle. From poverty alleviation to food waste, the cost of school materials, excessive consumption, drink driving, protection for marginalised students, public hygiene, corporate social responsibility and teenage self-image, few subjects escaped the students’ scrutiny and ingenuity.
And while the project is in principle theoretical, its impacts were very real.
“It was really interesting to see how to take an idea out of nowhere and make it workable,” said Jaime Salvador Garcia, one of the team behind MedTec. “Before the course, I never saw the way around doing that. Now, I really feel I can do it again. I’ve seen it’s possible, and I’m motivated now.”
MedTec was one of the great surprises of the evening. Jaime, together with Caroline Resch and Ben Stemper all from Lycée Robert Schuman, developed the idea for a medical device that can produce blood test results in minutes. With Sheena Lindahl’s encouragement, they reached out to companies in Luxembourg, who, much to the students’ surprise, were very keen to hear more and support the project.
“That was crazy,” said Ben. “We wrote to them, and they said ‘yeah, come in’”. And, while the project started off as a conceptual idea, thanks to that support and the guidance from Sheena, the team believes that it could now be realised.
It also helped to build their confidence.
“I feel much stronger in myself after doing this, especially after getting up and doing the pitch,” said Caroline.
Therese von Roesgen, one of the creators of Fruityful, was completely taken aback when, on hearing the idea for transforming ugly fruits and vegetables that farmers have difficulty selling to supermarkets into more attractive products, the judging panel seemed more than keen to hear when exactly she and team-mate Maxime were going to get cracking on getting it started.
“It was like being hit with a wall,” said the visibly thrilled student who would like to go on to study economics and psychology at university. “I still have to finish school, and 12 months is such a short space of time considering we’re students. But you think, yeah, we could do this.”
School mate Sarah Faber, one of the team behind Beatcase, which aims to beat food waste by tackling one of the biggest sources of it, restaurants, also hopes to create something more with their idea for a take-home, reusable doggy bag that she designed herself.
Already a social entrepreneur, Sarah is also the founder of an organisation, Rent A Student, that matches students up with people who need someone to help out with jobs such as dog-walking, child sitting or help with homework.
“It’s always great to hear from successful people like Sheena, to encourage us, to tell us their ups and downs. You can always relate to their stories, and you feel that if she made it, then maybe I can make it too,” said Sarah, who would like to study business.
Another project that seemed very ready to go was Bodyboost, a platform for teenagers with concerns about their body image to share with and support one another. The platform aims to not only provide forums for members to communicate with one another safely and without judgement, but also access to a wider range of supports from nutritionists, doctors, psychiatrists and health centres.
Sixteen-year-old Hannah Steichen, who would like to study politics or law at university, said the experience was transformational. “Before I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I’m so grateful that I found this workshop,” she said.
The winners on the evening were:
Grand Prize Winners
Wardlendo (Gianni Di Paoli and Lele Jules Yin) — cut down on clothes consumption by borrowing from a clothing “library”.
Fruityful (Maxime Lorenzoni and Therese Von Roesgen) — cut down on food waste by transforming “ugly” food into products, such as smoothies, that people will want to buy
First Prize Winners
World Art Fortress (Ismini-Anna Pnevmatikaki) — a global platform for global artists
Beatcase (Sarah Faber and Ben Rieth) — a new silicone “doggy bag” to help beat food waste in restaurants
Second Prize Winners
MedTec — (Jaime Salvador Garcia, Caroline Resch and Ben Stemper) — a medical device that gives blood test results on location in minutes
Third Prize Winner
Bodyboost (Hannah Steichen) — a platform for teenagers with body image concerns to share and provide support to one another as well as access to higher-level services, such as nutritional and medical advice, health services, and more
Fourth Prize Winners
Dayjobr.xyz (Ben Sauber) — creating a connection between homeless people and people who need help with day jobs
Alco Street (Sandra Ramos Pereira and Catarina Borges Dos Santos) — a device that prevents people from drink driving, or cheating on standard drink driving prevention devices
Image: Alison Shorter-Lawrence, Lele Jules Yin, Gianni Di Paoli, Therese Von Roesgen, Maxime Lorenzoni and Daniel Pattarini