BeChangeMaker contestants play to win—for the good of the globe

Since the inception of the HP Foundation’s BeChangeMaker contest, hundreds of social entrepreneurs have emerged with a mission to do more.

By Heidi Mitchell — April 30, 2020

When Saif Eddine Laalej and Houda Mirouche, a Morroccan duo, came up with the idea to recycle plastic waste into durable, decorative flooring materials, they didn’t have anything remotely resembling a business plan. They knew that their home country of Morocco was building more and more residential developments, but had no idea how to scale their idea to meet the demands of the construction industry. Then in spring 2019, they entered the BeChangeMaker contest, created in partnership with the HP Foundation and WorldSkills International, under the company name Zelij Invent. After pitching live in front of an audience in Kazan, Russia, Zelij Invent went on to take second place in the 2019 finals. That provided the nascent company with access to HP employees who acted as mentors, and unprecedented international exposure, which quickly resulted in Zelij Invent winning another $100,000 grant and raising an additional $40,000 to bring its durable bricks and tiles to market. “Our mentors were the keys to the success of our BeChangeMaker experience,” the entrepreneurs say. “They were always available to push us to deliver more and helped us find the tools to implement and scale our business.” 

“I look at this as a marketplace to bring together the talent and ingenuity of people across the world and bring their ideas to life.”

— Michele Malejki, global head of social impact programs, HP

The team could have stopped there, but instead they are paying their good fortune forward. They are planning to launch their own waste management system and recently signed a partnership with a Tunisian NGO to create a joint venture that aims to increase social and green entrepreneurs’ knowledge in Africa through a series of online mentoring programs, animated videos, and a best practice book.

Online lessons meet real world challenges

Contestant teams are paired with HP employees who act as mentors to help them shape their business plans, create prototypes, and hone their pitches. They also complete a 90-day online program of HP LIFE courses, on everything from how to acquire funding, harnessing the marketing power of social media, and bringing a product to market. In the fall, 10 finalists are chosen to present in front of a live audience, this year (fingers crossed) in Dublin in October. Three winners place first, second, and third, and receive 1,000 euros cash and 1,000 euros worth of post-program coaching. 

Since the inception of the BeChangeMaker contest in 2016, hundreds of social innovators have completed the HP LIFE courses — sometimes winning the final round, but always emerging with a mission to do more. Last year, 30 teams representing 24 countries were chosen from among 270 applicants to participate in the online social entrepreneurship training program.

Courtesy of HP

Hanane Ouakrim and Nawal Allaoui are awarded as one of the top three teams of BeChangeMaker 2019. Their company Seaskin produces luxurious and sustainable leather products out of fish skin for climate-neutral fashion.

“What better way is there to learn than to actually put these HP LIFE teachings to practice?” asks Michele Malejki, global head of social impact programs at HP. The goal of BeChangeMaker is to increase their awareness of social entrepreneurship as a career option. “I look at this as a marketplace to bring together the talent and ingenuity of people across the world and bring their ideas to life.” 

It’s working: Last year, the program more than doubled its applications while tripling employee engagement through submissions to be mentors and judges. Diversity of every form — geographic reach, gender, socioeconomic status, thought, approach to solutions — is represented among the applicants, who are all under 35. “When you look at the ideas submitted, you’re seeing a huge group of young people who are really committed to the planet, whether it’s by making pacifiers that clean the air to microbes that feed the soil,” notes Malejki. 

Participants gain invaluable access and education during the contest (though anyone can take HP LIFE courses, already in seven languages, for free), while HP employees also benefit from mentoring entrepreneurs of the future on public speaking and business modeling.

“I was really impressed with the variety of the ideas the participants brought,” says Russia-based Margarita Ratsenberg, GT EMEA controls manager, who mentored an entrepreneurial incubator for people with disabilities – one of the top 30 teams participating from Russia. She said watching the contestants’ pitches “only proves how important it is to think outside the box, apply a growth mindset, and be able to present your idea to a wide audience.” She plans to be a mentor again this year.

Mentorship makes the difference

Team, from Denmark, is still in touch with their HP mentors from Spain and India. Despite being the youngest contestants at 18 and 19 years old to make it to the finals last year, the Danish students persevered with their air-purifying pacifiers, thanks, in part, to the support of their HP mentor, who helped them “stay focused and to say ‘yes’ spontaneously to any challenge.” After the finals, was invited to a UNESCO event in Bonn, Germany, where they spoke in front of leaders from around the world. 

Similarly, the Agrivengers team from Taiwan relished the opportunity to learn online, at their own pace (long before the world moved to distance learning). At the finals in Kazan, these young social innovators took first place after presenting their nanobubble technology that aids in soil cleanup and environmental protection. Almost a year later, team leader Daniel Lin says they continue to reap the gains of their winning pitch. “It’s now easier for my team to work and negotiate with potential business partners or investors, since we are sort of ‘certified’ now after winning an international startup competition,” says Lin. “Most importantly, the skillset and advice we got from BeChangeMaker still benefit us to this day.”


BeChangeMaker 2020 applications are due May 15.