Showcasing Creativity at Best Idea Competition


In conjunction with the Social Venture Academy (SVA), the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance recently hosted the Best Idea Competition. The annual competition has provided the opportunity for students from any major to share their ideas for improving the world through social innovation since 2007.

“We want to help out the world, but we want to do it sustainably,” says Michael Hsiung, SVA president and student director. “We want to see good business strategies and make sure the ideas are generating revenue. It is about finding something that the market needs, not just something really cool.”

In previous years, contestants entered the competition by submitting a two-page write-up about their idea. This year, however, the SVA changed to video entries which more than doubled the applicants.

“Making my video was an interesting experience because I’ve never really done anything like that before,” says Madison Fox, a senior public health major from Bayfield, Colorado. “I did about a dozen takes to try to get the idea down right. The process of making the video helped me refine my idea. As I heard myself try to explain it, I realized what I needed to change to make it more feasible.”


Students at Best Idea Competition

A panel of judges, made up of local business leaders and Ballard Center alumni, watched the videos to determine if the idea could succeed as a business. For each judge that voted yes, applicants received $50 dollars. An additional $200 was awarded to the video with the most popular votes.

David Hepworth, a senior neuroscience major from Salt Lake City, along with his partner Chase Roberts, a recent graduate in computer engineering from also Salt Lake City, collected the popular vote prize for PennyPledge which would allow users to donate as little as a penny with the click of a button.

“How cool would it be if everyone in the world gave you one penny?” Hepworth asks.  “It would not affect the rest of the world, but you would have more money than you would ever need.  The penny concept—along with a previous idea to build an online community focused on doing good—mixed around until one night PennyPledge came to me.”

Hepworth has since gone on to win the SVA’s Best Product Competition, the second of three contests designed to help teams develop and carry out their ideas to make the world better.

“These competitions give me a lot of hope that people actually have ideas for problems that seem incurable,” Hsiung says. “My goal is that these ideas can, through our program, launch as sustainable, impactful, and innovative social organizations.”

To see a full list of all the winners from this year’s competitions, visit