Entrepreneurs offer a boost for eco-friendly start-up idea

The Shari Aronson MECOM Center wants your ecofriendly ideas in its first-ever Eco Clip online Facebook contest.

By DAVID SHAMAH
January 17, 2011 21:41
4 minute read.
Michelle Lourie and Yuval Heimowitz, MECOM.

Michelle Lourie and Yuval Heimowitz_311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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If you’ve got a great idea to help Israel’s environment, and you want to get the attention of the people who can do something about making it a reality, this is your chance to get some top-flight publicity.

The Shari Aronson MECOM Center of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) wants your ecofriendly ideas in its first-ever Eco Clip online Facebook contest. If you’re one of the winners, you could get an iMac, an iPad, an environmentally sensible electric bicycle – and, just maybe, an audience with the environmental affairs minister. Now that’s the way to start a start-up!

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The contest is the idea of two graduates of the MECOM center, Yuval Heimowitz and Michelle Lourie, who were asked by the school to develop some ideas to promote ethical and responsible behavior among the journalists being trained there. After much thought, the two came up with the idea of the Eco Clip contest, in which everyone – amateurs and professionals – is invited to present their ideas on improving the environment, via the Eco Clip Facebook page (do a search for “Eco Clip” in Facebook).

Participants are instructed to make a short video clip – 30 to 90 seconds – and upload it to the Eco Clip Facebook page (as is befitting, uploading will begin this Thursday, which is Tu Bishvat).

The clips should present/express the environmental idea/project being promoted, preferably in a creative manner. The 15 top clips, based on number of views/likes, will make it to the finals, where a panel of VIP judges (including actress Orna Banai, Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, Channel 2’s Udi Segal and Channel 10’s Guy Zohar) will pick the top three plus a “crowd favorite.” Those are the clips that win the prizes, and “We intend to present them to the Environmental Affairs Ministry for further action,” Lourie says.

Eco Clip is a groundbreaking project in a number of ways. It’s certainly the first time that the Environmental Affairs Ministry (probably any government ministry, actually) will be using the “wisdom of crowds” to examine possible projects that can make life healthier for all of us.

And, as far as Heimowitz knows, it’s the first time anyone has ever used Facebook for a contest like this.

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“We got the idea to use the combination of social media and cameras for societal improvement from the IDC’s Prof. Charles Solomon and adapted it for the Israeli public,” he says. “The application will measure the popularity of each entry – the number of views and likes – and the judges will have some leeway to choose entries for the final as well. The idea is not just to like or view a video, but to engage viewers and get their feedback on the ideas. Using a camera, anyone can get involved and help improve society.”

The pair intend to repeat the effort, Heimowitz says, and future online clip festivals could focus on other important social issues, such as health.

Leveraging the power of social media like this is not new to either Heimowitz or Lourie, especially the latter, who worked with the Tel Aviv Municipality to develop “The Architect,” an alternative-reality game to celebrate the city’s 100th anniversary in 2009.

Participants in the game trolled the Internet for clues and information to solve a drama that takes place on the “mean streets” of the city.

“One important aspect of Eco Clip is getting users involved in promoting their own ideas,” Lourie says. “People who enter the contest will want to get their Facebook friends to like their clip and others to watch them.”

But it’s not just a popularity contest, she says. Lourie and Heimowitz hope that hundreds, if not thousands, of people will vote in the campaign (which lasts for a month). They believe quality will win out over quantities (of friends), so that only the best ideas will get into the finals.

Besides being an impetus to participants who have a good environmental- technology idea that they’ve been trying to get attention for, Eco Clip also offers entrepreneurs some lessons on online promotion.

“We have a PR firm working with us, as well as a company that specializes in online promotion,” Lourie says. “And we have been in touch with schools and universities around the country, urging students to get involved as well.”

Lourie and Heimowitz have high hopes, but they admit they are in uncharted waters; after all, Facebook isn’t exactly known as an agent of social change, and the idea of promoting socially useful ideas via the platform is relatively new.

“It’s a growing experience for everyone involved – us, the IDC and the users,” Heimowitz says. And thanks to that growing experience, they may have figured out a way to make the huge Facebook platform into a force for good, while helping to solve some environmental problems by giving some great ideas a prominent place on the Internet!

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