May 1, 2015

Congratulations to RemitMas and Spokey, winners of the second SIPA Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant competition. RemitMas aims to build a digital money transfer service that doubles as a savings tool for Latino immigrants in the United States and their families back home, while Spokey envisions an AirBnB-style hub for community groups and others that wish to rent out space for events.

The announcement came at the April 24 #StartupColumbia Festival, a project of Columbia Entrepreneurship and others. The five finalists, including the two winning teams, had presented to SIPA Dean Merit Janow and other judges the previous day.

The Dean’s Public Policy Challenge grant, inaugurated in Spring 2014, promotes the use of information and communications technology and/or analytics to find solutions to urban problems around the globe. This iteration of the competition began in September. As the competition narrows, finalists receive funding for specialized training and market research, as well as mentorship and guidance from faculty, alumni, and other experts in numerous areas—from building a business model to testing user response and pitching a concept to potential investors.

Designated as first-place winners, the RemitMas team will receive $30,000 to support their efforts. The team aims to build a cash-to-savings digital money transfer service that allows Latino immigrants in the United States to send money and deposit it into savings “wallets” in their home countries; deposits can be designated for specific purposes like education or health care. Using a proposed tagline of “Send. Save. Support,” the planned pilot program will focus on the 1 million Colombians living in the United States.

The RemitMas team comprises Maelis Carraro MIA ’15, MBA ’16, Lina Henao MPA-DP ’14, Daniela Hernandez MIA ’15, Felipe Pacheco MPA ’15, and Steven Pallickal, who received an MS in negotiation and conflict resolution from Columbia in February.

The second-place team, Spokey, will receive $20,000. The Spokey team is creating an online hub that will allow social, sporting, charitable, and community groups to list their vacant spaces that can be rented for special events to generate extra income. The team is developing an application with a two-way rating system—first in New York, with plans to expand to Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington by 2016.

Team members are George Hampton MPA ’15, David Santos de Padua MPA-EPM ’15 of the Program in Economic Policy Management (PEPM), and Gemma Peacocke, a non-student.

RemitMas and Spokey join PaisaBack and Terranga, winners of the first competition sequence, which concluded in February.

“The entrepreneurial spirit at SIPA is alive and well — and growing,” said Dean Merit E. Janow. “As we conclude the first year of the Dean’s Challenge, it is a pleasure to congratulate and support our second set of competition winners. The creative energy that is circulating among our students continues to inspire, and I look forward to continued innovation by current and future students alike when the competition resumes this fall, and in other arenas still to come.”

Comments from winning students

“RemitMas was born out of the Social Entrepreneurship course offered at SIPA. Our professor, Sara Minard, was the guiding force behind refining our idea and model. Her enthusiasm and support cemented our team's desire to make RemitMas a reality.” — Maelis Carraro, RemitMas

“The Dean's Challenge was a crucial opportunity for our team to integrate the commitment to our venture with our SIPA curriculum. We were able to leverage the expertise of our advisors to learn and grow both within the Columbia community and the greater NYC startup community.” — Daniela Hernandez, RemitMas

“Our team is very excited to continue working under the mentorship of the Columbia entrepreneurship family through permanent seats at the Columbia Startup Lab. We look forward to building a beta version of our platform and acquiring our first customers in the coming year.” — Felipe Pacheco, RemitMas

“The SIPA Dean's Public Policy Challenge Grant competition is great because it takes the constant innovation of startup culture and brings it into the public policy space. The competition allowed us to approach the policy problem we identified from a different perspective, and equipped us with tools necessary to come up with a creative solution.” — David Keith Santos de Padua

“Coming to SIPA, I don't think any of us imagined we would set up a company in order to address a policy issue. As a policymaker myself I've began to realize how beneficial sharing ideas across sectors can be, and how much I can learn from the lean and technology-driven approach of startups.” — George Hampton

“The advice and support from the competition we received from judges and other SIPA faculty and staff has been incredible. We've already met with schools, churches, clubs, and theaters, and over the summer we are looking forward to meeting with community leaders and creating partnerships with venues who will become the first to offer their spaces for hire.” — Gemma Peacocke