Swarthmore Students Win Innovation Marketplace Challenge

Patrick Han '16, James Chen '17, Yenny Cheung '16, and Dakota Pekerti '16 hold the first-place award from the 2016 Innovation Marketplace Challenge. [Not pictured: Persis Ratouis '17]

To realize his vision, Dakota Pekerti ’16 needed a dream team.

The day he found out about the 2016 Innovation Marketplace Challenge, Pekerti posted a want ad on Facebook.

“Within five minutes, four other students were like, ‘We’re in,’” says Pekerti, whose proposal for the challenge was a moped ride-share program in Jakarta, Indonesia. “All of these people I knew from different avenues of life and different contexts came together to flesh out the project, which was amazing.”

Composed of students of various backgrounds, interests, and skills, this Swarthmore "dream team" traveled to Washington, D.C., in April and bested student teams from 20 different schools to win the challenge.

“We had a really diverse set of team members who all study different things,” says James Chen ’17, a psychology major from Fremont, Calif., whose academic background helped the team to consider the social impacts of the proposed project and analyze its risks. “That interdisciplinary communication fostered a very comprehensive picture of what we wanted to accomplish.”

Patrick Han '16, an Honors political science major from Arcadia, Calif., brought market analysis and business development skills he honed while competing with Pekerti and Yenny Cheung ’16 at the student business plan competition Swat Tank.

Cheung, a computer science major from Hong Kong, brought startup experience and design skills, greatly aiding the implementation of the project.

Persis Ratouis '17, a computer science and engineering major from Austin, Tex., drew from her religious studies classwork to suggest engaging the Jakarta community in places of worship.

“Our presentation was just so comprehensive, from the socio-economic angles to the technical, and the judges thought that was great,” says Pekerti, an engineering major from Southlake, Texas. “It harkens back to the liberal arts exposure and ideas and people we have encountered through the years, which helped us to put forth a well thought out idea with major impact.”

The team’s varied backgrounds helped, too. Pekerti applied childhood experiences in Jakarta to his interest in sustainable technology and engineering. Patouis had an international perspective, too, from her family’s time in France, and experience with building a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

“Because of our diverse backgrounds, we also helped give each other points to think about and new ways to think of something that often set us off on a new wealth of options to choose from,” says Chen.

Adds Cheung: “It was great bouncing ideas off one another and and putting them together into a feasible project.”

The Georgetown Development Initiative (GDI) guided the Innovation Marketplace Competition, aiming to enable students to have a great impact on social issues around the world. Each team chose a developing country or developing area and proposed an initiative to solve a problem in areas such as the environment, energy, and global health.

The Swarthmore team chose the environment, aligning with the mission of the College and their own interests in sustainability, reducing carbon emissions, and addressing climate change.

“Joining The Green Advisors program this year gave me a lot more awareness about the issues  going on around the world right now,” Chen told The Daily Gazette. “I feel like integrating carbon emissions and sustainability with behavioral change is quickly one of my interests.”

The Swarthmore team hopes to make its transportation program a reality, to reduce air pollution and traffic in Jakarta. Pekerti has spoken with the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility about taking the next steps. But with the team busy graduating and/or searching for internships, he considers it a long-term process.

“We want to plan this out carefully, developing a feasibility study and finding sources of mentoring and funding,” he says. “We’re driving this thing forward, but at the right pace.”