Hearing the stories of Launceston’s most vulnerable people was confronting for University of Tasmania nursing student Emily Wong.

As part of a nursing unit, Ms Wong teamed up with her fellow students Miranda Zheng, Nina Kristinsson and Ella Polley.

The idea for the Miles for Smiles mobile dental van was born and the team was recently named as a finalist in this year’s UTAS Big Ideas Challenge.

The Big Ideas Challenge has named its statewide finalists, with voting now open.

Community members are invited to vote for their favourite “pitch” idea across the three categories: commercial, social impact and Internet of Things.

Presented by the institution in partnership with the Office of the Coordinator General and Enterprize, the challenge is running in the North and North-West.

More than 240 individuals are participating in the challenge and have submitted ideas across three categories: commercial, community (social impact) and Internet of Things.

​The best ideas have been shortlisted and voting is now open, with the Tasmanian community invited to help decide which projects should be developed.

The Miles for Smiles mobile dental van would operate to offer young and school-aged children dental services, for a fee.

The fees raised from the children’s dental program would help fund the mobile van’s true purpose – to offer free dental work for the state’s homeless and vulnerable people.

“We didn’t even start out wanting to go into the Big Ideas Challenge but we got good feedback from our nursing unit,” Miles for Smiles team member Nina Kristinsson said.

“But when we saw the Challenge come up, we thought it fit into the social impact category.”

“We chose social impact because it best fit what we were trying to do,” Ms Kristinsson said.

Ms Wong said as part of their research the team paired up with Launceston’s City Mission and Launceton Feeding the Homeless.

“We went down and met with some of them and the stories they told us were quite confronting,” Ms Kristinsson said.

“We had one guy come up to us and tell us he had to pull out his teeth with pliers because they got so bad but he didn’t have access to care,” she said.

Lack of access to care is a main issue for those who are homeless and vulnerable.

Ms Kristinsson said although dental care may seem a small thing, if you didn’t have good teeth it could impact on a lot of other things.

“If you are worried about your teeth, or don’t have access to dental care, then you may not have the self-confidence to look for jobs, or apply for houses,” she said.

Ms Wong and Ms Zheng, who are both international students, said they wanted to target the mobile dental van after seeing and meeting with them in Launceston.

Ms Wong said she was surprised to see how many people were doing it tough. 

The team have done their research, after meeting with vulnerable people, they have also met with City of Launceston council to pitch the van idea and have discussed funding sponsorship with Launceston’s Officeworks.

Another Northern finalist is Josh Rowlands, who developed the business idea, Tasmanian Farm Tours.

The tours would be aimed at Chinese tourists and would be guided agriculture experiences.

“The competition has been an awesome opportunity to come together, share and discuss business ideas with other like-minded entrepreneurs,” Mr Rowlands said.

“The feedback provided for my pitch really helped it to be more succinct and persuasive.”

The Big Idea Challenge has been supporting entrants to develop ideas into real businesses and social projects which have the ability to transform the state.

Office of the Coordinator-General spokesman Richard Celm said the office was supporting the challenge after running similar competitions in London.

“We’ve been blown away by both the number of people that have taken part and the quality of the ideas,” Mr Celm said.

The mobile dental van would be free for those vulnerable in the community but would also provide paid services to children.

The mobile dental van would be free for those vulnerable in the community but would also provide paid services to children.

“A number of the finalists can turn these ideas into full-time jobs for themselves and that’s what opportunities like this are all about.”

Prior to the shortlisting stage, entrants attended start-up training in Burnie and Launceston, which focused on ideation, methodology and pitching. 

Participants then pitched their ideas to a panel of experts including start-up founders from Enterprize, that identified the current finalists.

Other ideas include an Internet of Things robotic rubbish bin that can autonomously travel to the curb and a spatula developed by science students that changes colour to help make perfect chocolate.

The idea with the most votes will be crowned the People’s Choice winner at the gala awards night at Enterprize in Launceston on July 30.

The best ideas will share in more than $10,000 cash and in-kind support to help launch the successful projects.

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