The Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business hosted their 11th annual John Edwardson, '72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC), which highlights start-ups that tackle social issues in innovative ways.

Hyde Park native Eamonn Keenan won first place for his idea to connect low-income Chicagoans to crucial and affordable legal services with SAEF Legal Aid (Support, Advocacy, Education for Families.) SAEF Legal Aid will receive $75,000 in funding, which Keenan says will go towards software development and user acquisition. 

SAEF Legal Aid allows people who can’t afford legal services to find the help they need by providing referrals to available, affordable legal resources. 

According to the SAEF Legal Aid site, “In Chicago, there exists a multitude of free and affordable family law legal service providers. But each provider is only able to help consumers with a particular set of legal problems.” SAEF helps solve this problem by connecting those in need with those who can help with their particular issue. SAEF provides online tools — and will also reach out to community centers and shelters — to reach family lawyers in such areas as child support, paternity, child custody, visitation rights, divorce and separation, and annulment.

A social venture with a mission to increase healthy food access for residents on the South Side tied for second place. Southside Market is a neighborhood fresh market and cafe that also increases business ownership opportunities to South Side communities. It will receive $37,000 in funding.

Southside Market is an initiative founded by students at the U. of C.’s Booth, Harris School of Public Policy, and the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice. 

Mabel Shiu, a recent graduate from Booth, said that she first became interested in working with a fresh market during her social impact lab. “I was able to support redevelopment that was happening in the Chicagoland area. I spoke with a lot of community development experts across the US.” 

Shiu noted that the recurring theme throughout her conversations was the need for community gardens. “I just thought that was really inspiring and a beautiful way to build community. In Chicago, we do have a thriving urban farm scene and community gardens,” she said.

The market is currently doing monthly pop-up shops this summer in the greater Chatham area. “We partnered with St. Stephen Lutheran Church for our pilot pop-up (in April). That went very well. We want to continue focusing on the Chatham community’s understanding of what the local needs are and their preferences and shopping habits because we want all of our business decisions to be based on customer discovery,” explained Shiu.

Shiu says the market will increase business ownership opportunities by employing locally and offering all employees profit-sharing. “From there, those who are interested in an ownership track have the ability to earn equity as well as purchase equity. So that ultimately, a marketing cafe location can become a franchise owned by the local community.”

Southside Market will host its next pop-up in July. The location has not yet been determined. 

This year the SNVC included 14 teams that competed for 6 spots in the finals. Since 2011, the challenge has helped jumpstart more than 100 companies and nonprofits.

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