By Nelly Ating
The Hult Prize Foundation, the world’s largest start-up accelerator for social entrepreneurship, holds an annual $1,000,000 international competition for university students. These students are challenged to develop innovative social enterprises that aim to tackle grave social issues faced by billions of people. The Foundation is a partnership with President Bill Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative, and Hult International Business School which, each year, challenges millennials around the world to produce life-changing ideas.
In early 2015, the American University of Nigeria, as the only undergraduate team to make it twice to the semi-final round in Dubai, was granted the hosting right for “The Hult Prize @”. At this level of the competition, participants from AUN get an opportunity to bypass 10,000 applicants in the traditional process. This privilege fast-tracks the AUN team and its ideas through to one of five regional final rounds of the competition in Dubai, London, San Francisco, Shanghai, or Boston. AUN’s undergraduate scholars competed against master’s degree students, PhD candidates, and alumni from other universities around the world.
Unlike other business case competitions that are geared towards solving typical business issues, the Hult Prize engages students to use their business skills and expertise to take on some of our world’s most pressing social challenges such as clean water, education and poverty. The 2015 challenge focused on building start-ups that might provide sustainable, high quality, and early education to 10 million children under the age of six by 2020.
This million-dollar challenge is particularly well suited to the American University of Nigeria students, all of whom routinely focus on development issues as part of their undergraduate education. This is one of the reasons that the Hult Prize organisers chose AUN as an “Hult Prize @” site, with the president of AUN, Dr. Margee Ensign, serving as one of the student coaches for the project.
An instructor in Business & Entrepreneurship, Fardeen Dodo, who worked with last year’s Hult team, utilised the networking benefit of the Hult Prize. He arranged an e-learning session at AUN’s e-library with Mr. Bijan Masagh, the winner of the 2014 Dubai round. Mr. Masagh, leveraging on AUN’s Internet capabilities, served as a guest lecturer in AUN’s Entrepreneurial Innovation class. The 25-year-old Hult Dubai winning team leader shared his experiences with the students in Mr. Dodo’s class, speaking about entrepreneurship and his Hult competition experiences.
AUN senior Blessing Douglas, who has led the effort to bring the Hult competition to AUN, and has participated in the two regional Hult finals, was invited to a Hult Prize @ Campus Challenge summer camp in the United Kingdom. Here she was appointed a Hult Prize Campus Director for AUN. As a campus director, Ms. Douglas qualifies for over 25 incentives, including meeting President Clinton and a trip to attend the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York.
“Hopefully, in 2020 AUN will be hosting the regional competition in Africa,” Ms. Douglas said with high hopes for the competition.”
As part of “Hult Prize @,” 15 AUN student teams competed in the first ever AUN Hult Prize @ Campus Challenge. Each team pitched ideas that will address the 2016 topic focus: “Crowded urban spaces – solutions on doubling the incomes of the residents who live in some of the toughest conditions in the world through improved mobility and increased connectivity to people, products, and services.”
The teams at the AUN Hult Prize @ Campus Challenge took the opportunity to present compelling social business ideas to a panel of judges including popular Nollywood actress and role model, Ms. Joke Olu Jacobs (née Silva).
The campus challenge winning team led by Ms. Feyiosola Ogunbanjo pitched their idea on sustainable farming methods – an indoor faming that incorporates vertical and greenhouse farming. Vertical farming is cultivating crops on an inclined surface or a skyscraper.
The group explained that the indoor farming allows growing year-round crops, farming at home, healthier crops, and producing crops that grow faster than the produce of conventional farms. This method also allows minimum overheads, low labor costs, and low water usage with controlled transpiration, enabling a farmer to use 90 percent less water.
The selected team will be AUN’s third to represent the University at the Dubai regional finals which will take place in 2016. Mrs. Jacobs commented, “We chose Sil Indoor Farms because the team dealt with several challenges that the world is facing right now. They are looking at running the business in a sustainable manner.”
Mr. Dodo said that the Hult Prize competition will enrich the students’ college experience. “Besides the competition, students will benefit from several workshops, networking, and entrepreneurial learning events run by a number of professionals and trail-blazing global experts, including Stuart Fleming of Enviroserve; Garett Awad of the Scholl Centre of Entrepreneurship; Ali Edrissi of JP Morgan (UK), and Khaled Gazawi, the CEO of Grameen-Jameel.” The $1,000,000 incentive is also not far from anyone’s mind.
Winner of AUN’s Hult Prize @ Campus, this team will represent AUN at the next HULT Prize Competition