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Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship


Skoll Centre Venture Award winners: Tree-planting Quad-Copters and Farmers’ Transport Logistics

Back row: Lauren Fletcher and Matt Richie of Biocarbon Engineering with Soushiant Zanganehpour (centre) of the Skoll Centre

Seated: James and Isabella Horrocks of Linkage with Pamela Hartigan (centre) of the Skoll Centre

Two new social ventures with founding teams from the University of Oxford have been chosen to receive this year’s Skoll Centre Venture Awards. The winners are Biocarbon Engineering, focusing on replanting one billion trees annually through the use of quad-copter technology, and Linkage, which aims to help smallholder farmers in Kenya to improve their selling practises and supply chain using an Uber-like logistics and transport system.

About the awards

The annual Skoll Centre Venture Awards are given to University of Oxford students whose ventures are deemed to have the most potential to create large scale social impact. Last year's winners included ventures in areas as diverse as agri-technology, travel booking for the disabled and game-based learning technology. Each winning venture receives up to £20k in funding from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, which is based at the Saïd Business School, in Oxford.

About this year’s winners

Biocarbon Engineering is an organisation which aims to automate industrial scale reforestation through the use of unmanned quad-copters, remote sensing, automated mapping, and high-velocity, air-fired planting systems, with a view to planting 1 billion trees per year. The team is led by PhD candidate / NASA veteran Lauren Fletcher and current Oxford MBA student Matt Ritchie. The venture will receive £20k in funding from the Skoll Centre.

'Being awarded the Skoll Venture Award this year is an amazing honour,' said co-founders Lauren and Matt. 'We plan to plant 1 billion trees each year, so we are incredibly grateful for the validation of our concept from an organisation that is globally recognized as a leader in preserving, protecting, and expanding our global forests and jungles. The funding will allow us to build and validate the critical path technology and will lead to full field tests of the planting technology within the next 6-12 months. We are really excited about the connections and collaborations that we are already making through the Skoll Centre.'

Linkage aims to increase incomes of smallhold farmers in Kenya by improving rural logistics. Their goals is to increase the value captured by smallholder famers in Kenya by making use of idle motorbike drivers, mobile payments platforms and triangulation software to aggregate produce and find buyers directly in the local market. In this way, smallholder farmers can capture up to 75% more value per transaction as compared to the current method. The team is led by two Saïd Business School MBA students: Isabella Horrocks and her husband James Horrocks. The venture will receive £10k in grant funding from the Skoll Centre.

'We are delighted to receive the Skoll Venture Award this year,' commented co-founders James and Isabella. 'There is huge need for innovation in linking smallhold farmers to market in Kenya, and we hope that Linkage will add significant value in this area. The funding is crucial in enabling us to run a decent scale pilot over the coming six months. We are hoping to use this award to move past the proof-of-concept stage to raise further funding in early 2015. We are hugely grateful to the Skoll Centre in Oxford for their ongoing support and guidance.'

Mark C. Hand, Entrepreneurship Fellow at SBS and one of the principal administrators of the Skoll Centre Venture Awards, added:

'I'm really proud that the Skoll Centre is adding its support to these companies, in addition to the three in our existing portfolio. I hope to see more and more philanthropic capital getting behind ideas like Linkage and Biocarbon in order to give them a running start at raising capital from commercial investors. We were delighted at the number of applicants for this year's awards. We see it as evidence of increasing interest on the part of students to use their careers to tackle world-scale problems.'

Soushiant Zanganehpour, Strategy and Special Projects Consultant at the Skoll Centre, added:

'For the second year in a row, we’ve taken risks with our own capital to try demonstrate the viability of certain social ventures and to encourage more of this kind of behaviour by peers. Not only have we been impressed by the quality of venture applications year on year, we’re also more convinced that this is a viable means of using philanthropic dollars as risk capital to accelerate the creation and provision of sustainable benefits for neglected segments of society and the environment at large. In all five of the ventures we’ve supported to date, we see strong prospects of this notion coming to fruition.'

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