Two innovative businesses founded by Carlson MBA students have earned top honors at the 2016 Acara Challenge. The ventures won gold and silver for their potential to affect global social and environmental challenges. 

Held by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, in partnership with the College of Science and Engineering and the Carlson School, the Acara Challenge spurs start-ups with creative, sustainable solutions that can have an impact in the real world.  This year, the competition named winners in two divisions: domestic and international.

The winners will have the opportunity and resources to further develop their ventures. In addition to cash prizes, students from the 2016 Acara Challenge will join a new leadership development program that provides ongoing coaching, workshops, and reviews from May to September 2016.

Gold: Siobhan Powers

Patricia Columbus-Powers (pictured above),'17 MBA, won gold in the domestic division for bringing fashion and healing together to empower and employ Native Americans. She developed Siobhan Powers: a high-end Native American fashion house that allows consumers to represent Native American success and contribute to empowering Native American designers to end cultural appropriation in fashion, provide employment to Native American felons, and promote healing and self-expression through art. 

Columbus-Powers won $1,000 to invest in her business, and is also eligible to receive up to $5,000 in additional funding.

"Fashion is an artistic expression with visibility to great masses," she says. "I’m passionate about making positive change within my communities. Siobhan Powers is to be a symbol of Native success and giving back to our communities."

Silver: Minnesota Freedom Fund

Simon Cecil, '17 MBA & MPH, and Adam Rao, '17 MBA, took silver in the domestic division for addressing inequities in the legal system and ensuring that no one becomes stuck in jail for the crime of being poor. Minnesota Freedom Fund pays bail for low-income individuals and connects them with legal support, helping them reconnect with their jobs, homes, and families. The student team won $750, and was also named "Crowd Favorite" in the competition.

"I'm excited by the opportunity that this organization presents to simultaneously push for progress on two important fronts: economic inequality and mass incarceration," says Cecil. "We know from research that the ability to access small sums of money to cover expenses like bail are key to helping communities gain financial security and help us work to reduce wealth inequalities. In launching this, we're rolling up our sleeves and going beyond talk to engage the challenges that come with trying to solve those problems."

Cecil and Rao also received the Sands Fellowship, which provided crucial seed funding for the business. This summer, they will pilot the program by bailing out 10 people and helping them navigate their cases.