On October 29th, the 2018 Global Impact Award (GIA) was presented to The Women’s Bakery, a social enterprise that creates access to education and sustainable employment for women in East Africa through the building of bakeries. Their scalable and adaptable model trains women how to profitably make and sell nutritious bread in their communities.
This is the 5th annual GIA competition, which awards up to $50,000 to Washington University students, postdoctoral researchers, and recent alumni whose ventures are scalable, sustainable, and quick-to-market with proof of concept and a broad impact. It is facilitated by the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Skandalaris Center), and it is made possible by the generous donation of alumnus Suren G. Dutia, BS ’63, AB ’67, MS ’67, and his wife, Jas K. Grewal.
The Women’s Bakery was awarded the full $50,000. Co-founder and CEO, Markey Culver (MBA ’17), says it will go “toward enhancing the operations of our newest bakery in Rwanda, the Gicumbi Bakery. This bakery employs both Congolese refugee women and Rwandan women, and our goal for this bakery is to create a very robust distribution network. So, our focus will be on optimizing our production and sales. We will use the funds for 1) management training, 2) securing and operating sophisticated equipment, and 3) developing and implementing a hub-and-spoke distribution system.”
The Women’s Bakery joins the ranks of past winners, Nanopore Diagnostics (2014), ViFlex (2014), Applied Particle Technology (2015), Epharmix (2016), Geneoscopy (2017), and Strayos (2017). To date, past GIA winners have collectively raised over $7 million in funding and employ over 40 individuals globally. Such progress is precisely what the donors hoped for when starting the Global Impact Award. Grewal remarked, “Suren and I are gratified to see that all previous Global Impact Award winners are doing well and growing.”
Part of what separates this competition from others is its focus on impact. “The Global Impact Award is an important distinction for our community of innovators and entrepreneurs,” commented II Luscri, Managing Director of the Skandalaris Center and Assistant Vice Provost for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “It sends a strong signal to WashU students, faculty, and alumni that we must use the knowledge and skills we are developing in our classrooms and labs to address the world’s most pressing problems.”
Leading up to the finals on October 29th, the Skandalaris Center helped the seven finalists prepare through mentorship and advising. Culver spoke highly of this part of the process, commenting, “GIA provided high-touch mentorship through the Skandalaris Center. This was The Women’s Bakery’s third year competing, so we listened to the judges’ feedback from past competitions, and we adapted, tightening up our business model and operations. The Skandalaris Center’s Venture Analyst, James Sorrell, helped us to highlight those adaptations this year.”
When designing the competition, the donors specifically requested that all GIA finalists receive detailed judges’ feedback, and The Women’s Bakery’s story is the perfect example of why this is important. “The Women’s Bakery is a testament to the entrepreneurial process and perseverance,” Luscri added. “Entrepreneurs find ways to move their ventures forward, even when faced with resistance, and Markey’s continued involvement with the Global Impact Award and Skandalaris Center shows that she has this quality.”
Dutia remarked, “It is great to see our winner, Markey Culver, embrace the constructive feedback given by the judges two years ago by pivoting the business model for The Women’s Bakery. We are pleased that Markey remains passionate about her entrepreneurial venture that is making positive impact on the lives of women by creating jobs, showing tenacity and executing effectively. We wish her the very best.”
Learn more about The Women’s Bakery’s founding team.