It’s difficult to find ways to make a difference when the challenges associated with COVID-19 seem so insurmountable.
But when Terry College seniors Cheryl Maafoh and Abigail Snyder sought to make a difference, they focused on a problem close to home — helping Athens’ unsheltered population.
Called the Clean Campaign, their plan connects the homeless with toiletry kits by partnering with local hotels to supply toiletries from their unused shampoo and soap inventories. The project answers an emerging need as Athens shelters cut space or closed to cope with the pandemic, said community leaders. The plan has a real chance of making a difference, said judges during the UGA COVID-19 Virtual Design Sprint, sponsored by the College of Engineering and UGA’s Innovation District initiative.
Maafoh and Snyder’s Clean Campaign won first prize in the design sprint, a virtual hackathon organized in April to solve the unprecedented problems caused by the pandemic. The win gives Clean Campaign $3,000 to make the plan a reality. They plan to use the money to build their program and meet the goal of distributing more than 1,000 hygiene kits in Athens this summer.
“They addressed a question I wished was a question we didn’t have to ask, which is how to help unsheltered persons find ways to clean themselves,” said Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz, who served as one of the judges and announced the first-place award at the online ceremony. “It’s a very real-world circumstance we have to deal with in local government every day and every year. I think you connected, very well, an existing set of resources with an existing need, and I hope you’re able to use this prize to make this a sustainable effort.”
Nearly 200 UGA student innovators from 43 majors participated in the sprint. Students formed interdisciplinary teams, identified a specific problem related to the coronavirus, developed design concepts, and refined their ideas into three-minute video presentations.
About 20 percent of the students who participated were Terry College students.
Judges included S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost; Donald Leo, dean of the College of Engineering; 14 industry and corporate partners and Girtz.
Second place winner Team WellCalm plans to develop a mobile application to help employees maintain a healthy work-life balance while working from home. That team, which took home $2,000 to create the app, included two management information systems students, Yaovi Avoudikipon and Abhideep Budda; business management major Rachel Turcios, economics major David Cruz, and psychology and neuroscience major Hayliegh Rose.
Audience favorite winner, QuaranTEAM, developed a plan to use ultraviolet, germicidal lights to sanitize shared shower spaces at shelters and other social service delivery locations. Team members include accounting major Tulsi Patel, management information systems major Srinidhi Dupaguntla, marketing major Jyoti Makhijani, biological engineering major Juhi Mancha and Adi Kapoor, a student at Vanderbilt University. QuaranTEAM took home $500 to help put the system into place.
Clean Campaign’s Maafoh and Snyder participated in UGA’s Entrepreneurship Idea Accelerator this spring. During the design sprint, Mafooh and Snyder relied on local leaders who are already serving the Athens homeless population and they wanted to help fill gaps those leaders were experiencing.
“A big part of this process for us was realizing that there were a lot of people in Athens who were already doing this work,” Snyder said. “Cheryl and I aren’t trying to start our own hygiene kit distribution because that’s already happening, and the experts are already handling that.
We’re trying to help solve problems that they were experiencing.”
They relied on the networking and strategy training they developed through entrepreneurship courses and the Idea Accelerator program to sell the concept to hotels around Athens. They made a lot of cold calls, but it paid off. Many hotels pledged to supply toiletries.
“I was surprised by how willing they were to help, especially because they’ve taken a huge hit over the last couple of months,” Maafoh said. “The fact they were willing to use all of their extra inventory to help the community was inspiring.”
Clean Campaign’s identification of a clear problem and ability to build a community network to help solve that problem is what set the team apart from the other teams, said Girtz.