Innovation in Action alumni teams take first, second place in Ford’s Go Detroit Challenge
Two public health-focused start-ups launched at the University of Michigan received top prizes in Ford Motor Company’s Go Detroit Challenge, the six-month challenge that engaged community members and asked participants to identify and create innovative solutions to mobility challenges faced by Detroiters.
Led by U-M School of Public Health alumni Stacey Matlen and Greg Wnuk, Cart—which seeks to increase access to health-enabling resources like grocery stores by connecting people to affordable and reliable transportation—placed first, receiving a $15,000 prize.
Caravan—a social mobility enterprise focused on improving Detroit’s needs-based transportation network and increasing access to services like healthcare, education and employment—took second place in the competition, winning a $7,000 prize. The team is made up of U-M graduate students Kenny Fennell and Benjamin Morse.
Both Cart and Caravan got their start in Innovation in Action: Solutions to Real-World Challenges, a five-month, university-wide challenge led by the School of Public Health that stimulates innovative, collaborative undergraduate and graduate students to develop solutions to real-world problems.
“We consider Innovation in Action (IIA) to be a seed program, a pipeline specifically geared toward people who wouldn't initially self-identify as ‘innovators’ but are interested in using innovation and entrepreneurship to solve big problems in public health,” said Ann Verhey-Henke, managing director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship at the School of Public Health. “It's been wonderful to see Stacey take what started as a group of students interested in the broad topic of food insecurity and transform that idea into a company focused on food access and mobility. We can't wait to see where they go next.”
More than 1,000 people from Detroit and around the world participated in the challenge and helped generate more than 160 ideas to address transportation-related needs in Detroit. Finalists worked with community organizations and Ford mobility experts to transform their ideas into innovative mobility solutions and then presented their ideas to a panel of judges composed of Ford experts, city representatives, nonprofit leaders and mobility business leaders.
“The way the IIA program is run and structured set us up to be successful and put us in a position in which we could win a competition like Go Detroit,” said Matlen, Cart co-founder and CEO. “IIA teaches the design thinking process in the most applicable way possible, and the program does not just have you come up with solutions but instead has you really investigate the problem first to make sure your solution is actually filling a need. Similarly, Go Detroit had us present a solution that fills the mobility needs of all Detroiters. Since we created Cart with Detroiters in mind, it was a perfect fit. With Go Detroit, we were provided mentorship and further opportunities to learn and test out new ideas with our last pilot.”