Mexican and Italian students share young entrepreneurs title


Two innovative eco-friendly projects have shared first prize in ORT’s leading entrepreneurial competition for students.

Teenagers from the Scuola Della Comunita Ebraica in Milan devised a crowd-based shipping platform and a team from Colegio Israelita de México ORT (CIM-ORT) in Mexico City created reusable smart gift bags which allow users to track the number of trees they have saved by not using wrapping paper.

The teams’ efforts made them the joint winners of the 2019-20 Taub Young Entrepreneurship Program (YEP), which guides small teams of students to design a product which solves a social problem.

The annual program overcame substantial challenges in 2020, not least the physical closure of ORT’s schools due to the Covid pandemic. But this change fuelled the students’ innovative approach and enhanced their collaboration, with the majority of teams working together remotely and picking up new skills online.

Teachers and students said continuing the YEP program remotely, while in lockdown, had provided a welcome break from core subjects and given them renewed enthusiasm for the competition.

The switch to remote work meant a series of adaptations to the program and required most students to take part in Wednesday’s live final alone at home in front of their computers rather than with their teammates in their classrooms. But more than 100 people joined the session to see ten teams each give a four-minute presentation of their project before answering questions from the judges.

Opening the event, Robert Taub – World ORT Secretary and program sponsor – told the students: “I’m so glad to see this program has taken off. I remember when the idea started and it’s great to see we have great candidates and students presenting from countries around the world.

“ORT realises how important it is for entrepreneurs to come up with new projects and fuel economies.”

The final was hosted by Natasha Shaw, World ORT Project Manager, co-ordinated the YEP program and ensured it continued despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. The judging panel for the final included entrepreneur Daniel Morris, communications consultant Simon Jones, marketing guru Deborah Azagury-Slattery, creative director Ilai Szpiezak, and Maker education specialist Gus Merkel.

Prizes for the winning teams included iPads and free membership to online courses or distance learning portals.

The winning entries

Milan’s ‘Jask’ sustainable shipping project matched locals who want goods from abroad with travellers who have extra luggage space. With no shipping fees, the product gives users an affordable option for sending packages to loved ones without increasing their carbon footprint.

The team designed a website and app which give users the chance to request products, gifts and items. They also calculated membership fees to make the business profitable and no-plastic packaging to increase sustainability.

Aimed at being reliable and transparent, team members said the project had considered the various legal and security issues required for international shipping and travel.

CIM-ORT’s smart gift bags project (team pictured above) works to reduce the millions of tons of wrapping paper waste globally every year through a clean-tech solution.

The reusable bags are intended to be passed on from person to person with gifts, rather than using wrapping paper. Each bag contains a QR code, allowing previous users of the bag to log in later and see where the bag has moved on to, and how many trees they have helped save.

Simon Jones said the initiative was “an act of kindness, not just for our planet but for civilization as well – congratulations, it is a very encouraging project”.

Among the runners-up was the team from ORT Colegio Estrella Toledano in Madrid, which devised a retina-scanning payment system. Using biometrics and ‘three-blink authentication’, the innovation would remove the need to touch cash, bank cards or devices – a vital safety option during the current pandemic.

A self-cleaning water bottle concept was presented by students from the ORT Liceo Renzo Levi in Rome, and an edible cup for hot drinks was the tasty creation conceived by the team from ORT Tekhiya, Center of Education #1311, in Moscow.

The future of ORT shines brightly

Announcing the results, Dan Green, World ORT Acting Director General and CEO, said: “Clearly you are all winners. The presentations were fantastic. The work put in has been amazing – everyone at ORT is so proud of you.

“I feel sure that the future of ORT and our communities is shining really brightly with the innovation and creativity you have shown to bring you to this point – you all deserve huge congratulations.

“Thank you to Robert Taub – without him we wouldn’t be here, he is the sole donor and supporter of this program. Thank you for supporting this project. You can see how valuable it is, it’s one of the most exciting programs we run and we should shout loudly about the pride and achievement we feel around it.”

Milan student Clara said the project “was important to us because it came from our hearts. We worked hard on it. We thank you for all the help and everything we learned, the experience and the opportunity”.

Marc Zyman, from CIM-ORT, said: “I’m really proud of our team and all the effort we made. This experience was amazing for us because we had to do this first in school and then with the pandemic, we’ve learnt so much and it will really help us for the future and our lives and businesses. Thank you so much for all the help and the prize.”

At the start of the program last September, eight teachers from Israel, Spain, Russia, Italy and France took part in a training seminar in Haifa, Israel.

They explored the environment needed for a start-up to thrive and covered introductory topics such as competitive advantage and innovative thinking, as well as visiting a start-up incubator in the city.

Learning design specialist Arik Ingber guided the teachers through mentoring their students, including one-to-one coaching and overseeing webinars and team rehearsals.

The YEP program combines theoretical and practical activities aimed at developing students’ knowledge, skills and understanding while encouraging creative thinking and practical creativity.

The full course simulates the real-world process of developing an initial idea through market research, analysis of risks and opportunities, to defining product specifications, selecting the optimum business model, designing a marketing strategy, manufacturing a product prototype and ultimately, in the live final, the presentation of a business plan and sales pitch.

We look forward to launching the 2020-21 YEP program in 20 ORT schools in September.