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Big ideas

The three finalists in the U’s American Dream Ideas Challenge now have a chance at $1 million.

The top three ideas in the University of Utah’s American Dream Ideas Challenge aim to boost Utahns’ income by cutting transportation costs, leveraging unused storage space and revitalizing an economically depressed region of the state.

The three finalists announced on Thursday, Nov. 29, are:

  • Neighbor, an early stage tech company, allows Utahns with unused storage space to make money by renting that space to people with storage needs; renters save money over costs of traditional self-storage.
  • Mobility as a Service (MaaS), a collaboration between the Utah Transit Authority, Utah Department of Transportation and Salt Lake City, focuses on decreasing transportation costs by enabling households with multiple cars to get by with one less vehicle through seamless access to alternative transportation services.
  • Utah Coal Country Strike Team, led by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, aims to help Carbon and Emery counties, hard-hit by the steady decline in coal production since 2001, prosper by seeding a “Silicon Slopes East” hub in Price, revitalizing housing stock, promoting tourism and creating targeted economic incentives to spur development.

“These teams clearly emerged as the top three given their innovation, interdisciplinary and collaborative team composition and their potential to meet the challenge goal,” said Courtney McBeth, project director of the American Dream Ideas Challenge.

Each team will receive $30,000 to use in refining its proposal and preparing to present the idea at the national round of the competition on Jan. 29, 2019, in Phoenix. The Utah teams will be presenting alongside proposals from The Ohio State University, Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison for up to $1 million in funding from Schmidt Futures.

Schmidt Futures selected the four public universities in April 2018 as anchor institutions in the Alliance for the American Dream, an initiative aimed at boosting the country’s shrinking middle class by providing access to capital and markets for ideas with the potential to aid distressed communities locally.

Schmidt Futures asked the anchor institutions to seek, develop and refine ideas with the potential to increase net income by 10 percent for 10,000 middle-class households in their communities by the end of 2020.

The U’s American Dream Ideas Challenge received 152 proposals from across Utah. In October, a university committee whittled the entries to 10 finalists. The American Dream community advisory board, led by U President Ruth Watkins and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, selected the top three ideas earlier this month.

“An incredible amount of creativity and hard work went into each proposal, illustrating how deeply Utahns care about their communities and about helping one another succeed,” Watkins said. “We are so pleased to contribute to a project we believe can make a lasting, positive difference in our state, benefiting thousands of Utahns.”

Cox said the three finalists do not target just one demographic group or type of household and have the potential to benefit the entire state.

“The cross-representation of industries from each of the teams shows the dynamic nature of Utah’s economy, and how multifaceted solutions exists to solve real-world problems,” Cox said. “I encourage all of us to keep creating, keep thinking, keep working on ideas that will bring more prosperity to us all.”