Student project to help Tanzanian children wins $10,000 idea contest

University Park, Pa. -- A team of Penn State students have won $10,000 in an online contest that will help fund their project to aid Tanzanian children.

The students, from the Colleges of Engineering, Health and Human Development, Business and Medicine, entered their project on ideablob.com to compete for the best social entrepreneurial idea. The team was pitted against seven other finalists during an online vote in February.

According to Khanjan Mehta, one of the team's faculty advisers, the student project, called "Mashavu: Networked Health Solutions for the Developing World," allows medical professionals to e-adopt children from the developing world through the use of modern communications technology.

Mehta said that trained operators at Mashavu stations will collect children's essential medical information, such as height, weight, blood pressure and lung capacity and upload the information to an online portal. Then medical professionals overseas who have "adopted" the children can supervise and monitor the health of the kids remotely and provide medical feedback to the station operators, who then forward the information to the child's caregiver. The project is a laptop-based system designed to use the existing cell phone infrastructure.

The idea for Mashavu, which is "chubby-cheeked" in Swahili, came from a class design project to develop a prototype cell phone-based system to help victims in disaster situations and refugee camps.

The team, led by chemical engineering senior Aaron Fleishman, is already working with the Mount Meru Peak School and Good Hope orphanage in northern Tanzania on the project.

"The ideablob competition gave us a fantastic opportunity to announce our new venture and receive validation and startup funding," Fleishman said on ideablob's Web site. "We have assembled an excellent multidisciplinary team of students and faculty to help make this project successful. Our pilot test should give us great direction towards developing Mashavu, implementing it effectively and making it sustainable."

As part of the pilot test, Fleishman, Mehta and 14 students will head to Tanzania in June. They hope to have the pilot running by the end of summer.

Fleishman plans to use the $10,000 prize money for continued prototype development and component costs, including additional laptops, medical sensors, cell phones and Web servers.

Ideablob.com is an online community that allows small business owners and entrepreneurs to share their business ideas in exchange for feedback, advice and votes from the community. Advanta, one of the nation's largest credit card issuers in the small business market, awards a $10,000 monthly prize to the best eligible idea, as determined by votes of the ideablob community.

"Aaron is the fourth social entrepreneur to win the contest as voted on by the ideablob community," said Ami Kassar, Advanta's chief innovation officer. "We find it very encouraging that there are so many good social entrepreneurial ideas out there, and even more importantly, that thousands of ideablob community members are supporting these ideas with their votes."

The Penn State team was honored at an awards ceremony on March 26 in 220 Hammond Building.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009