Hult Prize: Could business be the solution to world problems?

After being part of the volunteering team at Hult San Francisco for this year’s Hult Prize Regional Final, I had gotten my eyes up for this intuitive, futuristic notion of a social enterprise: An enterprise that is for-profit (or non-profit), but that also has a goal of solving one of the world’s most pressing issues. I was lucky enough to be invited to this year’s annual Hult Prize Global Final in New York City, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to mingle and network with influential leaders in politics and business. This is not to mention the five groundbreaking business ventures that were presented that night.

 

Hult Prize has truly opened my eyes up to a new world of opportunities. This year’s challenge was to double the income of at least 10 million urban space dwellers. It is amazing that business can have a huge impact on such a high amount of lives. All of the five teams have gone through an 8-week accelerator in Boston prior to pitching at the Hult Prize Final, and all of the ideas had a depth beyond my wildest expectation. As an example, allow me to introduce to you Simprints from the University of Cambridge, that won the London Regional Final. The problem they are tapping into is the massive lack of identification among large parts of the world’s population, making it difficult to keep medical journals in healthcare, or to keep track of who’s borrowing what amount in microfinancing. Their solution is a mobile biometric scanner with open-sourced software that would allow these institutions to save the biometric information of the people they serve when they have no other identification to go on. The data that is saved is compatible with government systems and complies with specific standards, making them compatible with existing government databases among others.

 

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CAPTION: Simprints presented their business idea at the Hult Prize Final. They didn’t win but will continue to work towards going to market with their business.

The winning team, Magic Bus from Earlham College–the team that won the Boston Regional Final–explained the problem in large parts of Africa of irregular bus schedules and drivers that can’t predict their demand. Through Magic Bus’ service, a text-based ticketing service that doesn’t require a smartphone but simply a regular text-enabled phone, drivers will be able to schedule their routes based on actual demand, both lowering the waiting times of people that could spend hours waiting for a bus while also increasing the revenue for the driver.

The businesses above are only a couple of examples of the extraordinary, innovative and forward-thinking business ideas presented at this year’s Hult Prize Final. It is clearer to me than ever that the opportunities are immense, and that all it takes is for the business leaders of tomorrow to truly realize the potential of social enterprises. Next year’s challenge has already been announced: “Reawakening Human Potential – building sustainable, scalable start-up enterprises which restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2022”. Now, all that it takes is for thousands of students with diverse international backgrounds to truly come together and formulate groundbreaking ideas once again.

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CAPTION: Was lucky to get a handshake and introduction with former US President Bill Clinton, one of the co-sponsors of the Hult Prize through his Clinton Global Initiative.

Although learning about the ideas of all of these people were very interesting and indeed rewarding, the event was also an amazing opportunity to meet leaders from all over the world. My fellow student representatives from Hult and I were lucky to meet and discuss issues with the former president of the Dominican Republic, Mr. Leonel Fernández. We were also lucky to meet other representatives from our own great business school, including the President of Hult International Business School, Dr. Steven Hodges, and the Executive Vice President of the Undergraduate Program, Jannicke Roos. This is not to mention the privilege of meeting with former US President Bill Clinton, who makes an amazing ambassador for this exceptional, unmatched student competition.

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