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Announcing the Inaugural Tibetan Innovation Challenge

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ROCHESTER, N.Y., July 9, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Tibetan Innovation Challenge is a new intercollegiate social entrepreneurship business plan competition created to improve the lives of 125,000 Tibetan refugees. The goal of the Challenge, which is organized by the University of Rochester, is to develop self-sustaining and replicable business ideas to alleviate the economic difficulties Tibetan refugees are facing.

"The competition will bring college students across the U.S. into productive relationships with Tibetans, their culture, and the societal issues they face as refugees," said Michael Wohl, competition originator and associate director of social entrepreneurship at the University of Rochester. "It will provide creative and entrepreneurial growth for the students, vital economic benefits to the Tibetan people, and deeper understanding and connection to our shared humanity."

In May 2015, six select universities across the country held competitions for teams of students, including at least one graduate business student, to develop practical business ideas that Tibetan refugees in India might implement in their communities. Each university selected one team to advance to the National Finals in New York City in July, where Tibetans and supporters of the cause will serve as judges and select the winning business plan. Judges include Kaydor Aukatsang, representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to North America; Jeff Hoffman, a successful serial entrepreneur who has been part of the founding teams for companies such as Priceline.com and uBid.com; Lobsang Nyandak, executive director of the Tibet Fund and trustee to H.H. the Dalai Lama; Song Pak, senior vice president of operations and acting general counsel for Revolution LLC, and general counsel and chief compliance officer for Revolution Growth; and Thubten Samdup, former representative of H.H. the Dalai Lama to Northern Europe.

"The ideas presented at this competition may be truly transformative for the Tibetan refugee population," said Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester. "Additionally, the competition represents a collaboration among diverse institutions uniting under the singular goal of furthering social good—a core value of the University of Rochester in our ongoing quest to embrace the university's motto of Meliora, or ever better."
 

Proposed ideas from the six finalist universities include:

  • Case Western Reserve University: Provide Internet cafes powered by solar energy and Tesla-powered wall batteries.
     
  • Syracuse University: tsampa- A Taste of Tibet is a nutrition bar produced by Tibetan refugees in India and sold in the U.S.
     
  • Texas Tech University: PATA will revitalize the handicraft market by providing an online point-of-sales system that allows handicraft producers to target western countries.
     
  • University of California, Los Angeles: Khata Studios will produce and distribute podcasts, targeted at young Tibetans, with programing designed to develop interest in their culture and motivate economic development.
     
  • University of Maryland: To offer a three-part curriculum — "Enlighten," "Enrich" and "Engage" — that teaches entrepreneurship to students in the Tibetan Children's Village school system.
     
  • University of Rochester: Himalayan Microfinance will unlock the entrepreneurial potential of Tibetans living in India by bringing them basic financial training and access to capital.

"The Tibetan Innovation Challenge seeks to match the best business ideas from talented students from some of the top business schools in the U.S. with a select group of Tibetan entrepreneurs. And those entrepreneurs will put the ideas into action to both place themselves and the Tibetan refugee community in India on a path of self-reliance and economic freedom," said Aukatsang. "I wish this innovative enterprise much success."

The National Finals, an invitation-only event, will be held on July 10, 2015 at the Tibet House US in Manhattan. The students' presentations will take place in the early evening, followed by a reception. The first, second and third place winners will be announced at a private award ceremony the next morning.

Tibetan refugees will have access to all of the business plans submitted, not just the advancing or winning ideas, in addition to seed funding earmarked by the Dalai Lama, to implement the business models. The University of Rochester is coordinating the competition in partnership with The Art of Peace Foundation, the Tibet House Trust in London, the Tibetan Entrepreneurship Development (TED) initiative, and the Tibet House US. For more information, visit www.rochester.edu/tibetchallenge.

About the University of Rochester Center for Entrepreneurship

The University of Rochester Center for Entrepreneurship, launched by a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation grant awarded to the University in 2003, provides the University and greater Rochester communities with resources to generate and transform ideas into enterprises that create economic or social value. More information about the Center is available at www.rochester.edu/entrepreneurship.

About The Art of Peace Foundation

The Art of Peace Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded on the Dalai Lama's belief of "Universal Responsibility." Regardless of nation, culture or religion, skillful compassionate actions can reduce suffering and promote happiness. The Dalai Lama has expressed deep concern over a trend of young Tibetans forced to leave their communities in search of gainful employment. The Art of Peace Foundation's executive director and Associate Director of Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Rochester, Michael Wohl, established the intercollegiate Tibetan Innovation Challenge competition to engage entrepreneurial-minded students to develop sustainable businesses for Tibetan refugees. The Art of Peace Foundation is funding the first place award. With artists like Sting, John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Peter Gabriel, etc., the Art of Peace Foundation has also produced albums to support Tibetan culture.

About the Tibet House Trust

Tibet House Trust is the UK registered charity, inaugurated in 1994 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the patron of the Trust. Its purpose is to preserve the distinct Tibetan culture, identity and enable the Tibetan to attain a sustainable life in exile while working for an eventual return to their homeland. Since its inception, the Tibet House Trust has work closely with the various Departments of Central Tibetan Administration on a number of projects for health, educational, cultural, economic and community development needs of the refugee community. Funding for the Trust projects are raised from individual donations,

NGOs, European Commission, Comic Relief and Big Lottery Fund etc. The Tibet House Trust will continue to focus its efforts on strengthening the exile community, for it is here that Tibetan culture and national identity are being sustained.

About the Tibetan Entrepreneurship Development (TED)

Tibetan Entrepreneurship Development (TED), an initiative of the Social and Resource Development Fund (SARD), aims to be an agent of change in helping orient Tibetan entrepreneurs and businesses towards becoming competitive, sustainable and impact-oriented. At present, most of Tibetan entrepreneurs are involved in livelihood businesses without much competitive, innovative and growth mindset. TED plans to bring in changes to this laid-back attitude of doing business by nurturing innovative ideas and ecosystem to address the various impediments that today's aspiring entrepreneurs are facing. We hope through this initiative, we will be able to create many successful and competitive entrepreneurs who will act as role models for other aspiring youths to emulate and thus, help instilled an entrepreneurial culture within the community which will ultimately contribute to the community's economic well being.

About the Tibet House US

Tibet House US was founded at the request of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who at his inauguration in 1987 stated his wish for a long-term cultural institution to ensure the survival of Tibetan civilization and culture, whatever the political destiny of the six million people of Tibet itself. Tibet House US is dedicated to preserving Tibet's unique culture at a time when it is confronted with extinction on its own soil. By presenting Tibetan civilization and its profound wisdom, beauty, and special art of freedom to the people of the world, we hope to inspire others to join the effort to protect and save it. Tibet House US is part of a worldwide network of Tibetan institutions committed to ensuring that the light of the Tibetan spirit never disappears from the face of this earth.

CONTACT: Natalie Antal Center for Entrepreneurship University of Rochester Natalie.antal@rochester.edu Randi Rispoli CoynePR rrispoli@coynepr.com

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