Registration for the 2015 Hult Prize, the world’s largest student startup incubator, has just come to a close. Now the teams, who are eligible for a $1 million prize, must race to come up with a solution to this year’s challenge.
The 2015 challenge asks teams of five to create a sustainable and adaptable model that poses a solution to the early childhood education gap for children from birth to age six. Contestants vying for the Hult Prize can be from any age group, from undergraduate freshmen to alumnae.
Campus director for the Hult Prize and Engineering sophomore Molly Wang believes that this prize is not only unique for its sizeable monetary reward.
“The cool part is not only that the end prize is $1,000,000, which is way bigger than other social impact competition,” Wang said. “It’s giving people real incentive to look at how a business can be profitable but also work toward a greater social good.”
Wang also hopes that this collaborative opportunity will bring together the Penn community, “especially here where people are so pre-professional” and often follow more traditional routes when making a start-up, she said.
This year, the Hult Prize has created a fast-track plan for students at individual colleges to get to the regional finals without competing against 10,000 other main-pool applicants. Around 35 teams registered for this challenge at Penn, but only one will advance to the regional finals after they pitch their ideas to the Penn judges in December.
Having heard about the Hult Prize from his mom before even stepping foot on Penn’s campus, College freshman Andro Mathewson found his team — which consists of three Ph.D. students and an alumnus member — at a networking event that Penn’s Hult Prize organizers planned.
While they are still in the brainstorming phase of their solution, Mathewson is excited about the improvements that his teams’ ideas could bring to areas like the slums of India and, if their ideas prove to be successful, Mexico City.
“It’s impossible to solve the world’s problems or come up with a unique solution in a month,” Mathewson said. “But we hope to make a flexible solution that can be used in other places.”
Mathewson described the benefits of having a team with diverse backgrounds, including education and finance, in that it allows for a “richness of ideas and experiences,” he said. Between them, they speak 16 languages and have lived in 14 different countries, which lends itself to solving a challenge that has potentially worldwide applications.
Sherryl Kuhlman, who works with the Wharton Social Impact Initiative to help organize the logistics for the Hult Prize on campus, says that the hefty prize pushes contestants to bring their ideas into the world more quickly, as they don’t need to put as much effort into finding additional funding.
“It moves past just the idea and focuses on actually making it happen,” Kuhlman said. “By getting $1,000,000 at the end, [the teams] already have everything they need.”
Last year, a Penn team came up with the invention Sweet Bites, which hopes to decrease tooth decay in slum residents globally with the use of xylitol gum. Sweet Bites won their regional finals in Boston. Although they did not win the grand monetary prize, they have successfully launched their start-up in India and continue to work towards moving their company into new grounds.
“Just because they didn’t win the end Hult Prize doesn’t mean that their business model is bad,” Kuhlman said. “There are other people that are going to invest. It’s a great platform for launching an initiative.”
This year’s challenge hopes to solve major worldwide issues surrounding early childhood education. Almost 70 million children around the world are unable to go to school each day.
Since 2010, the Clinton Global Initiative has been awarding the winning team $1,000,000. This year, the final round will take place on Sept. 22, 2015 in New York City, after teams make it through the regional finals in March.
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