Local groups among semifinalists in OSV entrepreneurship contest

BOSTON -- Three organizations from the Archdiocese of Boston are among the 24 semifinalists in the second annual OSV Challenge, a multi-round entrepreneurial competition held by OSV Institute for Catholic Innovation.

This contest is intended to accelerate the projects of Catholics "whose faith has motivated them to make a difference," the institute said in a June 29 announcement. Out of hundreds of original applicants, 24 advanced to the semi-final round, which involves a six-week mentorship program over the summer. At the end of the contest, three winners will be granted prizes of $100,000 to advance their missions.

The three Boston-based projects chosen for the semi-final round are Connect Boston, Cycle Prep, and St. Joseph's Home for Artisans.

"I'm excited that three groups from Boston were selected among the 24 semifinalists, which really goes to show the faith and the innovative spirit here in Boston," Father Eric Cadin said July 19.

Father Cadin is the director of the archdiocese's Office for Campus Ministry, which created Connect Boston as an event for Catholic college students and young professionals to not only network with each other but also see examples of faithful Catholics having successful careers in different fields.

Connect Boston held an event at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in October 2019 that drew nearly 1,000 people. They also held smaller follow-up events centered on specific professions. They had to do this work virtually during the coronavirus pandemic, but now they hope to hold more events in person.

Christian Nielsen, who was involved in the creation of Connect Boston, said they hope to develop a model that could be replicated in other cities and dioceses. He emphasized that they are not trying to create a new ministry or community but rather highlight those that already exist.

"That our idea and our creativity and innovation is acknowledged and is supported by this national movement of Our Sunday Visitor Innovations is an affirmation that we're onto something really great here," Father Cadin said.

Christina Valenzuela, the creator of Cycle Prep, a series of educational videos for girls and their parents to learn about puberty and the menstrual cycle, did not originally intend to enter the OSV Challenge herself. She said she had encouraged other friends to enter the competition, but when they, in turn, asked whether she would, she resisted the idea, thinking that she did not have the business background or qualifications.

But she said she then realized, "that's exactly what OSV wants to help cultivate. They want to draw out projects for people who may not have a business background, who may need some help launching their ideas, people who are trying to follow what Jesus is asking them to do but don't really know the way forward."

Valenzuela's plans for Cycle Prep had already changed since its inception. It was inspired by conversations she had with parents during her work as a Natural Family Planning instructor. She originally envisioned it as an in-person workshop, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, she instead launched it online in May 2020. After holding several sessions, she repackaged it as a self-paced course that parents could take with their daughters.

She said her goal would be to make Cycle Prep available in other languages and bring it to as many parishes and schools in as many ways as possible.

"I would love to see quality cycle education that respects the dignity of our bodies, upholds the values of our Catholic faith, but also gives girls really sound science to understand what's going on, so they can be empowered to really respect their bodies as they're changing," she said.

Valenzuela said that the contest is "challenging me to think about how best to serve the Church with this program."

"The way that they are doing their programming puts prayer at the center, puts service at the center, and I think is a wonderful opportunity for Catholic business owners or Catholic ministry innovators to really be able to launch to get the tools that they need," Valenzuela said.

The existence of the OSV Challenge was what inspired Clare McCallan and Fernando Limbo to create St. Joseph's Home for Artisans, a residency program and support system for young Catholic artists.

"Just the fact that they exist is the reason that we exist, because it was a realization that there is a place for innovation within the modern Catholic Church," McCallan said July 20.

Located in the North End, St. Joseph's Home for Artisans provides Catholic artists with affordable living space where they can pursue their art and build community. The residents -- currently including a dancer, a videographer, and musicians -- meet regularly to discuss their projects, share Sunday dinner, and hold an open mic night for the wider community.

McCallan, who writes and performs spoken-word poetry, said she thinks most of the OSV Challenge contestants are "trying to create something that we could have used a couple years ago," and "finding healing through the creative process and through the opportunity OSV is giving us."

"I really needed something like this three or four years ago. So the opportunity to provide it for early-career Catholic artists is just such a gift," she said.

The semi-final round includes the six-week OSV Challenge Accelerator, which provides the contestants with professional guidance as well as spiritual formation. This year, the University of St. Thomas in Houston is coordinating the curriculum and mentoring process. Through Zoom meetings, the contestants get to learn about building a strong brand and marketing plan.

Nielsen said that even if Connect Boston is not among the finalists or winners, it will be in an excellent position after going through the accelerator course.

"Whether we win or not, this whole process will make what we do more effective, more faithful, and more fruitful," Father Cadin said.

After the OSV Challenge Accelerator, 12 finalists will be announced on Aug. 30. The contest will conclude with the OSV Innovation Summit in Houston on Sept. 17-19, during which the finalists will pitch their projects to a panel of judges in the presence of their peers and potential investors.

More information about the OSV Challenge can be found at osvchallenge.com. A full list of the semifinalists is available at osvchallenge.com/2021-semifinalists.