YenAra, a student-run company that produces artisanal backpacks from Africa, earned first place at the fourth annual SwatTank Innovation Competition on Saturday afternoon during the 17th Annual Jonathan R. Lax '71 Conference for Entrepreneurship.
YenAra was founded by Sedinam Worlanyo ‘17, a computer science major from Accra, Ghana, and Bolutife Fakoya ‘17, a sociology and anthropology major from Warri, Nigeria. It topped two other finalists to claim the grand prize.
Now in its fourth year, SwatTank aims to equip students with the tools needed to become successful entrepreneurs by developing a co-thinking space where students with creative ideas can come together and talk about development and feasibility; a starting point where students with little or no experience in business can learn the basics of entrepreneurship; resources such as alumni mentors with experience in business and entrepreneurship; and skill building such as public speaking and team-work skills. All three SwatTank finalists have been working on their products and presentations since September, and each team was paired with an alumni mentor who helped the team through the various planning and implementation phases of their projects.
YenAra impressed a panel of judges and the audience, sweeping all categories. This year's judges included Lax Conference participants Baroness Glenys Thornton, chief executive at the Young Foundation and Governor at the London School of Economics; Chris Leinberger ‘72, president of Locus, a responsible real estate development agency; and Nick Torres, president of Social Innovations Partners.
YenAra presented first. Worlanyo and Fakoya showcased their company, which provides unique and functional African-inspired backpacks to an international marketplace. Each backpack design has a distinct identity and meaning, such as “Bi-nka-bi,” which means “no one should bite the other.” The backpacks are handmade by an artisan in Ghana and shipped to Swarthmore by Worlanyo’s mother.
Team AlumGo - Katherine Pemberton ‘18, an economics major from Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong, Shruti Pal ’18 of Singapore, Rida Hassan ’18, an economics and religion major from Karachi, Pakistan, and Michael Lutzker ’19 of Walnut Creek, Calif. - presented next. AlumGo was proposed as an online platform for college and university alumni and students to connect in an exciting travel experience. It would allow members within the U.S. and abroad to list and find accommodation, personal travel itineraries, language assistance, and other travel-related services. The idea is to open doors for travelers to access regions of the world they might not be able to visit due to financial constraints, language barriers, lack of time available to plan travel itineraries, safety concerns, and any other such obstacles they might face.
Team LaunchPad - Omri Gal ’19 of New York, N.Y., Min Zhong ’19 of Arlington, Va., Neeraj Shah ’19 of Bethesda, Md., Kwate Quartey ’19 of San Mateo, Calif., and Robert Eppley ’19 of Orinda, Calif - presented last. Their company focused on bringing internship and externship opportunities to high school students in the greater Philadelphia area. They would offer their service through high schools, who would pay a fee per internship or externship for one student to be matched with a company. By connecting students with companies, organizations, and alumni, LaunchPad would deliver a unique experience geared towards developing skills, professional experience, and connections.
After each group presented, the judges left the room and the contestants shared the most important lessons they had learned from the SwatTank process. Many felt they had greater attention to detail, communication skills, and an understanding of how important the testing process and feedback is after participating in SwatTank.
Once they returned, the judges highlighted that they were judging the planning processes by each team and that each of these ideas would make viable companies if the groups wanted to go forward and implement them. After YenAra, AlumGo took second and Launchpad third.
"SwatTank 2016 was an absolutely amazing experience that challenged me to think differently about problem solving and come up with new solutions to arising situations," says Fakoya. "It has definitely complimented a lot of work I do at Swarthmore and I look forward to applying some of the skills I’ve gained from competing."
Worlanyo agreed. "I found that I personally grew a lot throughout the entire experience from constantly practicing our pitch, to spending hours in the Media Center learning Adobe InDesign, to learning how to back up the assumptions behind YenAra's five year financial projections," she says. "The highlight was really just the amount of support we got from the staff and faculty involved in SwatTank. Our alumna mentor Sabrina Moyle '96 was such a huge part of our SwatTank experience and Bolu was an amazing teammate! It was one of those moments where I was reminded of the investment, synergy, and support that I am blessed to receive from some faculty and staff at Swarthmore."