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Eshelman Innovation’s PowerUp Nutrition and Mental Health Pitch Competition

A diverse group of people brainstorming ideas around a table

Empowering Local Communities Through Design Thinking: A Recap of Eshelman Innovation’s Nutrition and Mental Health Pitch Competition hosted at NC A&T

In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing world, design thinking has emerged as a powerful venture building tool to solve complex problems and create innovative solutions. This was evident at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s (NC A&T) recent Nutrition and Mental Health Pitch Competition, where four teams from the school’s Center of Excellence in Entrepreneurship & Innovation presented and developed their startup ideas over a two-day design thinking workshop led by Eshelman Innovation’s PowerUp venture studio through a 3-year Humana Foundation grant.

The event was designed to address the pressing need for better nutrition and mental health resources in the African American community. The teams were tasked with developing venture backable ideas that could improve access to healthy food and support for mental health issues in these areas.

The event kicked off with an evening dinner attended by over 50 students, during which over a dozen ideas were pitched. The diversity of perspectives in the room was crucial to the process, with participants from various academic disciplines and backgrounds coming together to share their insights and experiences. At the end of the evening, the Power Up investor panel selected the top four ideas that were invited to the design thinking workshop the next day.

On the second day, Power Up’s partner, the HBCU Founder’s Initiative, facilitated a design thinking workshop to further refine the four ideas and prepare for the final pitch competition. The teams worked tirelessly to prepare their presentations and create prototypes to demonstrate their concepts.

The final pitch competition was the highlight of the event. The teams presented their ideas to a Power Up panel and a live audience, showcasing their innovative solutions to the nutrition and mental health challenges facing the African American community.

The UHOBB team presented their concept for a social mobile app that would build and enhance relationships through face-to-face interactions. Their belief is that face-to-face interactions are crucial to improved mental health and well-being in today’s isolated virtual world. The In=Out team developed a concept for a community center that would offer mental health counseling services, wellness programs and support groups specifically for the African American community. The center would also provide a community farm and kitchen. Team AggieEats is bringing the family dinner concept to university dining. The healthy meal preparation service will take the anxiety out of “what’s for dinner?” for busy students who are looking to sit down and share a meal of culturally relevant nutritional dishes with friends. The Back to the Roots team developed an interesting take on a smoothie vending machine concept that can be placed throughout communities that are locked in food deserts to offer quick and healthy drinks that are made from locally grown fruits and vegetables.

The PowerUp investor panel mentored each of the teams throughout the day and provided feedback during the final presentation. The panel was impressed by the creativity and innovation displayed by all the teams. They praised the teams for their commitment to addressing the pressing challenges facing the African American community and applauded their willingness to think outside the box.

The event was a resounding success, empowering the African American community through design thinking and showcasing the power of entrepreneurship and innovation to make a positive impact on society. The concepts developed by the teams have the potential to make a real difference in the lives of people in the Black community.

Power Up will build partnerships with key community thought leaders and entrepreneurs in these areas to continue to develop these ideas through venture building activities over the coming months with the goal to launch at least one venture backable startup company by the end of the year.

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