Winner of $1m Chivas social enterprise prize revealed

Nearly a year after applications were first received, the winner of Chivas’ The Venture has been revealed at a star-studded event in New York City.

The $1m competition aimed to recognise the best start-ups from around the world that are using business to create positive change.

The winner was Conceptos Plásticos, which received the lion's share of the $750,000 up for grabs on the night. The Colombian-based social enterprise, which has found an ingenious way of making bricks from discarded plastic and rubber, received $300,000.

The bricks can be used to build houses that are easy to assemble as they work like lego pieces. A house for one family takes four people, with no construction experience, just five days to build.

Additives make the bricks fire-resistant and customers include NGOs, the government and other organisations that want to provide housing solutions.

Conceptos Plásticos use the plastic that is destined for landfill. Founder Oscar Andres Mendez's winning pitch was peppered with stark claims. "By 2050 we will have more plastic than fish in the ocean. And if we took just 2% of the discarded plastic in the world we could end the housing shortage in Latin America in ten years," he said.

WeFarm, the UK entrant, came second in the competition, receiving $200,000. Pioneers Post first reported on WeFarm last year. At the time, its global peer-to-peer farming advice service was celebrating 25,000 users. It currently has 70,000 who have shared 11m interactions. The founder, Kenny Ewan, stated that his aim was to reach 100m users.

2,500 applications for The Venture were received from 27 countries around the world. An entrant was chosen from each country and then these were whittled down to 12 semi-finalists. The five finalists were told they would be pitching on stage just 24 hours prior to the event.

$250,000 of the prize money had been allocated before the event courtesy of a public vote. Where the rest of the $1m went was up to the judges, who were assessing the viability of the business and the scalability of the model. Sustainability was also considered.

The five finalists had just five minutes to pitch to the judging panel, made up of Sonal Shah, director of the Beeck Centre for Social Impact and Innovation, actress Eva Longoria (pictured below, included because of her eponymous foundation credentials), Joe Huff of Lstn and Alexandre Ricard from Pernod Ricard (which owns Chivas).

Eva Longoria

Longoria stated that the impact of Conceptos Plásticos helped sway her vote, because it solved two problems – the housing problem and the environmental problem. She went on to explain other reasons why she thought Mendez was a deserving winner.

“There’s a huge need for it. His passion for this invention and how it’s going to help the world. And how it’s going to be scalable to many other countries. It just hit every marker that we had," she said.

Each of the remaining three social entrepreneurs also received a share of the money. Wakami, which empowers Guatemalan communities by selling the jewellery they make internationally, received $100,000. Eye Control, which enables ALS sufferers to communicate with their eyes, was awarded the same amount and Coolar, a low-maintenance, eco-friendly way of keeping medicines cool in hot countries, got $50,000.

Photo credit: Michael Loccisano