EPOCH photo

University of Waterloo’s EPOCH competes in last leg of million dollar social enterprise competition

Four University of Waterloo student entrepreneurs were invited to the United Nations in New York City this past weekend to propose a sustainable, scalable, social enterprise that could restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2022. Representing EPOCH, Jade Choy, Keith Choy, Lisa Tran, and Kaivalya Gandhi were one of six teams selected from 50,000 applications, and hundreds of universities worldwide, for the Hult Prize Challenge, the world’s largest student competition for social enterprises.

Competing for $1 million to fund their enterprise, EPOCH’s presentation at the Hult Prize Final was the culmination of a year-long journey. It started with winning the UWaterloo Hult Prize competition in February, organized by the Conrad Centre. After facing 1,500 competitors in March at the Regional Final in London, UK, EPOCH won the opportunity to participate in the six- week Hult Prize Incubator in Boston, Massachusetts this summer, before proposing their vision at the United Nations.

With sights set on helping refugees integrate into host countries, EPOCH is an app designed to bring together refugees and community members through the exchange of skills, talents, and services. Inspired by a concept called time banking, where time is used as a form of currency, EPOCH awards redeemable credits to refugees and community members for time spent helping one another, while also providing an opportunity for people to get to know and understand someone from another culture.

This has been an intense year full of growth and opportunity and we are eager to keep going,” said Jade Choy, co-founder of EPOCH. “We’ve been inspired by the refugees we’ve met who continue to pursue their dreams for themselves and their children despite their circumstances, and we want to create the kind of impact that allows them to restore their dignity.”

EPOCH has been developed within the University of Waterloo’s dynamic innovation ecosystem, with support from Velocity, the Conrad Centre, the School of Accounting and Finance, and the Epp Peace Incubator at Conrad Grebel’s Centre for Peace Advancement. The Centre for Peace Advancement’s Paul Heidebrecht and Velocity’s Crista Renner accompanied EPOCH to New York to provide mentorship and support, where they were joined by and meet with Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, Marc-Andre Blanchard, along with senior civil servants from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. While the top prize ultimately went to Roshni Rides, an electronic rickshaw service that aims to provide affordable transportation, EPOCH did a fantastic job in representing UWaterloo.

Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, spoke at the event, noting the significant importance of the Hult Prize, and the challenges it addresses:

“No matter what the challenge is, or how much money you have or don’t have, anybody can talk about it. Governments, foundations and wealthy people can give money to it. But, people still have to figure out how to turn their good intentions into positive changes that move other people’s lives and empower them and that’s what all the teams have done.”

Jade, Keith, and Lisa’s passion were sparked by first-hand experience volunteering with refugees arriving in Kitchener-Waterloo, and has been shaped by partnerships with many of the agencies working to help support and integrate newcomers into the community. In recent months they have drawn on the insights of these partners to cultivate connections with settlement agencies and businesses in Europe, having travelled to Germany and the Netherlands to research the settlement and integration of refugees.