Growing up in India, Yashaswi (Yashi) Tapadia, a sophomore studying economics, saw farmers struggle — working more than 80 hours a week and still not able to make enough money and yield enough crops to feed their families. So, she, along with Arquimides (Arqui) Perez-Leyva and Katie Friescen, sought out a solution.
Tapadia’s team is one of five groups of student entrepreneurs who culminated a full academic year of ideation, learning and experimentation at the GOJA-iChange FIU Social Innovation Challenge final pitch event March 27.
The event came as part of Changemaker Week: a university-wide initiative to engage students in social innovation and entrepreneurship offered by the Office of the Provost, the Center for Leadership and Service, the Honors College, the Office of Global Learning and StartUP FIU.
Students pitched innovative solutions to complex social issues in front of judges for the chance to win one of three prizes to support their project.
The team believed greenhouses could solve many of farmers’ problems. During a December 2018 trip to India where they visited 17 farming households, Tapadia and Perez-Leyva learned that farmers weren’t willing to stray away from traditional farming practices to adopt unfamiliar technology that could be their livelihoods at risk.
“We decided to pivot and start with youth,” Tapadia said. The team decided to bring greenhouse technology to schools so that children of farming families can bring the skills and knowledge back home.
Their business, Vikaasha, won the $7,000 grand prize to bring greenhouse technology to youth in schools. Tapadia credits passion and and mentorship to the team’s success. They worked with staff at iChange FIU, and also developed their prototype greenhouse in the Honors College Edgelab, a makerspace lab available to all FIU students.
“We developed great relationships with really amazing mentors that helped us identify weaknesses and emphasize strengths,” she said.
The team hopes to return to India this summer to conduct more research and further their business plan.
For students looking to start their own businesses in the act of solving a social issue, Tapadia says:
“Be passionate about whatever problem you’re trying to solve. Don’t fall in love with your solution, because it can always change.”