As the dust settled from the chaos of COVID-19 last year, the Linkmate team was selected as part of 40 top applicants to compete in the Be More-a-Thon held by the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS). NSHSS is the premier international honours and scholarship program co-founded by Claes Nobel of the Nobel Prize family, and 2020 was the first year they ran this two-day virtual event.
How it worked
Through the program, individuals took part in a judged competition where they presented their start-up ventures; solution-driven products; innovative prototypes; and substantive nonprofits hoping to win one of ten $10,000 Be More Grants to fuel their passion projects and support world betterment. NSHSS created the Be More Fund to acknowledge the positive, future-focused work that students, young professionals and educators are doing, particularly during this unpredictable and challenging time.
Over the two days, we all refined our ideas for world betterment and polished our pitches before going through three rounds of Shark Tank-style presentations to a panel of judges – all established founders, thought leaders and academics in their respective fields. They scored the presentations on five criteria: creativity & innovation, impact & sustainability, practicality & implementation, value & potential and the ‘WOW’ factor.
Expressing our gratitude
A big thank you goes to our mentors, Benjamin Smith, Scott Bryeans and Charles Green Sr., for their guidance and encouragement throughout the two-day, virtual event. I’d like to also take this opportunity to recognise the late Claes Nobel, who established NSHSS to promote diversity, equity and inclusion and to support students’ pursuit of peace, understanding and world betterment.
A massive thank you goes as well to the amazing NSHSS organisation for believing in us and giving us this wonderful opportunity to succeed with the Be More Grant. To date, the grant funds have been hugely beneficial in helping Linkmate incorporate as a social enterprise, cover legal and operational costs along with building out a team and developing a marketing strategy. If you’re interested in finding out more about NSHSS and the Be More Fund, click here.
The winning submissions included inventive solutions to pollution and climate change, world hunger, mental health challenges, declining bee populations, pandemic research, and access to education. The recipients of the 2020 Be More Grants were:
Sofia Gonzalez, Cicero, IL, Educator at J S Morton High School East
Project 214: Her Turn: Helping to solve the problem of gender inequality in education
This project is based on the belief that to educate a girl, particularly one in vulnerable circumstances, is to empower her for the future and for the betterment of society. Education is a fundamental right that a multitude of girls across the globe are being denied. Project 214’s mission is to promote education, provide resources, and improve lives.
Jaecee Hall, Polk City, IA, University of Iowa Class of 2023
Royal Promise: Fighting to eradicate pervasive malnutrition in Asikuma, Ghana
Jaecee Hall plans to build a fully sustainable chicken farm in Asikuma, providing an ongoing supply of life-saving nutrients and ensuring a better life for the community. It will be a source of education about disease prevention and the practice of proper hygiene while caring for livestock.
Emily Huffstetler, Maryville, TN – Maryville (TN) College Freshman
Build for Bees: Making homes to sustain underappreciated mason bees
Build for Bees is a nonprofit that helps mitigate honeybee population declines. Mason bees pollinate 95% of the flowers they visit vs. just 5% from honeybees. Build for Bees leads workshops on using recycled materials to create a stable future for our peak pollinators.
Nasiyah Isra-Ul, Chesterfield, VA – Incoming sophomore at Liberty University
Canary Academy Online (CAO): bringing high quality educational resources to home-schoolers
CAO is a nonprofit that brings high quality education and learning to homeschoolers with limited access to much needed educational resources. By organizing databases, personalized resources and consulting, CAO helps parents and students be their best, at an affordable price.
Genevieve Jean-Pierre, Whites Creek, TN, Senior at MLK Martin Luther King Junior Magnet Pearl High School in Nashville, TN
The Future is Fungi: Unlocking the key to produce biofuels – in a pink oyster mushroom
Biofuels are an overlooked source of sustainable fuel, and this project tapped a certain pink oyster mushroom for its ability to convert cellulose into glucose that produces biofuels. Grant money will be used to cultivate more mushrooms and to partner with the TN transportation department to begin supplying ethanol to gas stations in the state.
Eshani Jha, San Jose, CA, Senior at Lynbrook High School
Aqua Universa LLC: Reinventing water filtration for reduced contamination
Today, over two billion people lack access to clean water and 80% of the world’s wastewater is dumped back into the environment. Aqua Universa created a patented biochar filter system that rapidly removes contaminants at a low cost. It is partnering with leading companies and governments to create game-changing filtration applications.
Samantha Kopec, Clearwater, FL, Senior at Tarpon Springs Senior High School
Feeding the Fosters: Helping foster parents focus on what matters most
Licensed foster parents’ hands are full, between creating emotional bonds, helping with homework, providing transportation, and more. With little time for making meals, this nonprofit helps foster parents feed their families. In just one year, their 1,500+ volunteers served 35+ foster families, cooking 250+ individual meals each night.
Harshawardhan Pande, Germantown, TN, Senior at Houston High School
I.N.E.S.: Identifying Neutralizing Epitopes for a SARS- COV-2 vaccine
I.N.E.S. is a computational approach to researching vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Under the mentorship of two leading infectious diseases professors, Harshu developed a process called Reverse Vaccinology to predict a faster and safer way to prove vaccine efficacy.
Candace Printz, El Paso, TX: Educator at El Dorado High School
Green Hope Project: Turning plastic waste into gold, fostering arts education along the way
This nonprofit grew from a high school art/environmental project into a broader initiative that strives to effect positive change through arts curriculum materials, workshops, and events. It promotes community trash clean-up as a way to repurpose plastic waste into beautiful artwork. In doing so, it advances community education about pollution and environmental justice.
David Titeu, Melbourne, Australia – University of Melbourne, B.S. in Biomedicine; MBA Candidate
Linkmate: Preventatively supporting people with mental health challenges
Linkmate is an app that connects you with a pre-screened and trained peer who has shared a similar lived experience of mental health challenges as you. They show up to listen and validate that it’s okay to feel the way you do, then relate to your experience and inspire hope with their own story. By focusing on your strengths and passions, they build upon what you love and empower you to engage with your community and feel mentally well again.