February 8, 2016

Domestic human trafficking and English learning platform receive $70,000 investment in Spark Tank event

In final decisions, two firms unexpectedly double their investment in student start-ups

Training college students to mentor victims of domestic human trafficking and a platform that allows those learning English to practice with native speakers were the winners of $70,000 at the second annual Spark Tank event hosted by the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University last week. However, three additional finalists received funding in surprise decisions by the investing groups.

All Walks Project won the inaugural Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. The organization, led by Jasmine Anglen, Erin Schulte, Jessica Hocken and Brittany Ater, trains student volunteers to provide trauma-informed mentorship to survivors of domestic sex trafficking and to raise awareness of the problem in the community. In addition to $20,000 in grant funding, they will receive mentorship from the Pakis Family Foundation and acceptance into SEEDSPOT, a nonprofit incubator in Scottsdale.

In a surprise decision, Fred Pakis, chairman of the Pakis Family Foundation and event judge, announced the board also would award $10,000 to each of the other two finalists, Humanity X Technologies and 33 Buckets. “

We have been looking for a reliable pipeline of startups in the area of conscious capitalism for a few years. We were blown away with the quality of these finalists, but had to give the nod to All Walks for being the ready-to-market candidate,” said Pakis. “However, it was very obvious that they all spent a lot of time and effort refining their business plans since the first round of funding in November. Increasing the prize pool was our way of recognizing that and showing our interest in their continued success. We haven’t heard the last from these teams; these are difference-makers.“

LetsChat was the winner of the second annual Sun Devil Igniter Challenge. Chang Liu, Megan Kirk and Elizabeth Oviedo will receive $50,000 and mentorship for one year from the Igniter board to further develop their platform, which teaches English through text chat. The Igniter board also decided to fund the runner-up, Dropspot, at $10,000, with the potential to earn the remaining $40,000 by meeting project milestones.

“LetsChat stood out among the three finalists because it provides a thoughtful solution to a problem with a very large addressable market. The solution it proposes was thoroughly researched and presented in a concise and understandable way by a team comprised of a visionary and strong execution talent,” said Les Brun, chairman and chief executive officer of Sarr Group LLC and an Igniter board member. “We made the offer to Dropspot because we were intrigued by their app and very impressed with the team. While there is much to do to validate the market and to turn a lifestyle app into a cogent business opportunity, we all agreed that they were worth nurturing to see where we could go.”

Both the Pakis Social Challenge and Sun Devil Igniter Challenge are open to all ASU students. The Center for Entrepreneurship at the W. P. Carey School of Business received more than 180 applicants for the competitions. The judges for each challenge selected three finalists in November and provided additional funding for the students to develop their businesses before the final presentations in February.