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Credit: Varun Sudunagunta

Teams of students from across the Ivy League gathered at Penn this weekend to present their ideas on harnessing the power of energy to help people in countries facing a lack of resources.

The first-ever Hult Prize Ivy competition culminated in Houston Hall on Saturday, where finalists on six teams pitched social impact projects to a panel of judges. The 2018 Hult Prize challenge was to “build a scalable, sustainable social enterprise that [would harness] the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people by 2025.” Sponsors of the Ivy League competition included Google, Comcast, and Red Bull.  

About 25 groups from all eight of the Ivy League schools pitched their ideas in private presentations to the judges earlier in the day. Three of the six Hult Prize Ivy finalists were teams from Penn, joined by competitors from Cornell University, Columbia University, and Brown University.

Credit: Varun Sudunagunta

The winning team, made up of Penn students, pitched an attachment for light switches that utilizes motion sensor technologies to automatically turn lights on or off when people enter or leave a room. The device, which they call “InstaHub,” won Penn’s individual Hult Prize competition in December and sent them to the Hult Prize Boston Regional Finals in March.

The Hult Prize was established in 2009, in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative. It consists of campus, regional, and national programs that culminate in the worldwide United Nations final.  

Though InstaHub didn’t go far in the regional competition this spring, they decided to compete again in the Ivy League competition to try to re-enter the international competition that way. Now that they’ve won, the InstaHub team has the opportunity to attend an eight-week intensive accelerator program at Hult’s estate in Ashridge, England.

College senior Tiffany Yau, who will submatriculate with a master’s degree in the School of Social Policy & Practice, organized the Hult Prize Ivy competition after working at the United Nations and seeing the international Hult Prize 2017 Final take place.

“Last year I was the campus director [for Hult Prize at Penn] and I found it really inspiring,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing before that. I was a typical junior looking for jobs in consulting — I was originally pre-med — I was all over the place until I found this, and I found the impact really inspiring, so I launched Hult Prize Ivy.”

Credit: Varun Sudunagunta

Tiffany Yau, Ivy National Director of the Hult Price Foundation.

The Hult Prize Ivy was the first national competition for the United States and offers more opportunities for students in the United States to qualify for the worldwide competition.

Winners from national and regional competitions are able to attend the accelerator program in England and ultimately have the chance to compete for the $1 million prize awarded to the winning team at the United Nations final. The last time a Penn team qualified for the International Hult Prize competition was in 2014, when Penn students won the regional competition for the Hult Prize in Boston against 45 other teams. 

The program in England is meant to help teams hone their social enterprise ideas.

“Throughout this process, they improve and pivot their idea every week based on the themes that they take from the speaker events and all the programs that are provided to them,” Yau said.

Wharton freshman Brandon Nguyen said he has wanted to participate in the Hult Prize competition since learning about it in high school. His team’s project, called Agrigate, proposed creating a mobile network among farmers in Nigeria to eliminate food waste in the country.

The Agrigate team participated in regional finals for the Hult Prize in Singapore this March, taking a week off of school to compete, which they said helped them to prepare for the Ivy League final.

“Going to Singapore really helped to solidify what the expectations were. It definitely helped to get feedback from the judges there, so we were able to hash out our ideas more,” Agrigate team member and College and Engineering freshman Angela Yang said.

The third team of finalists from Penn called their project “Loop Vehicles” and pitched a battery technology which produces electricity with carbon dioxide removed from the air. The device, which could be used in electric cars, was presented as having the potential to reverse climate change by removing the greenhouse gas from the environment.

Loop Vehicles team member Owen Ford is a high school student in his second year at the College of Liberal and Professional Studies who will be attending Penn as an undergraduate next fall. 

Ford met his teammate, Engineering freshman Beni Shafer-Sull, through Penn Electric Racing, and agreed to enter the Hult Prize competition with him shortly after hearing Shafer-Sull’s idea.

“I thought that it initially did sound too good to be true; it sounds like magic,” Ford said. “I then read into it, and I realized this is feasible — it’s amazing — so I’ve been involved since the start of this year.”

Though Loop Vehicles did not win on Saturday, Shafer-Sull said that they are grateful for the access to industry professionals that the competition provided.

“The judges are all very successful and really important in their fields. They’re the types of people that because you’re a college student you wouldn’t normally get many chances to meet, so having them come listen and give meaningful feedback means a lot to [us],” he said.

Yau said that organizing the Hult Prize Ivy event was life-changing for her.

"I think it's really awesome to see like-minded people come together but I think it's even more amazing when you're able to host them at your own home at Penn," she said. "It's definitely very humbling."