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Hult Prize
Credit: Avni Kataria

After making it to the top 6 percent of applicants, four Penn teams competing for a $1,000,000 entrepreneurship prize traveled to four different countries, but returned to campus last week without advancing to the final round of the Hult Prize.

The four Penn teams competed in Toronto, Boston, Mexico City, and Singapore — four of the 15 locations for regional rounds of the Hult Prize. The teams had to create a start-up with the goal of harnessing energy to create sustainable "social enterprises" by 2025.

The Hult Prize — which was established in 2010 by Ahmad Ashkar and which has formed a partnership Clinton Global Initiative — opened applications to its 50,000 general round applicants in September and announced the 750 regional team winners in January. The approximately 16 teams who advanced beyond the regional round will travel to London for the next round this summer, but only six teams will have the chance to pitch to the United Nations in for the $1,000,000 prize money.

Penn sent two teams to regional rounds in 2015, one in 2016, and four in 2017. However, unlike this year's teams that entered through a general public application, teams in the past advanced by winning  campus rounds held annually at Penn. 

Loop Vehicles, a team that comprised Engineering freshmen Raghav Chaturvedi and Beni-Shafer Sull travelled to Mexico City for the competition. 

Team Aggregate, another team comprised entirely of Penn freshmen, traveled to Singapore in the first week of March to present its start-up in the regional rounds. The team constructed a web platform to connect small-scale farmers in rural Nigeria to urban markets in Africa, with the goal of both preventing energy waste from unused produce and arming rural farmers with data about market trends. 

Team member and Wharton freshman Brandon Nguyen said he “just stumbled upon” the program while doing his own research into case competitions. 

“Overall, as an experience, it was super eye-opening,” Nguyen said. “You hear about all these social issues, but then actually getting to talk to people who are from those regions and hearing their personal stories really humanizes the issues."

College freshman and fellow Hult contestant Avni Limdi said that in Singapore, there was a noticeable absence of other North American teams and Penn's brand as an Ivy League institution helped give the team legitimacy. 

Nguyen added, however, the team struggled to acquire Penn funding for the trip, calling it a "wild goose chase." Despite representing Penn in the competition, the freshmen eventually had to fund the trip themselves.

Despite the disappointing results this March, Penn's four teams may still have a chance to make it to the London round through Hult Prize Ivy.

Hult Prize Ivy selects 25 teams from across the Ivy league universities that will compete at Penn on April 7, Director of Hult Prize Ivy and College senior Tiffany Yau said. The winner of this
case competition wins $10,000 and moves on to the London round in the summer.  

Team Aggregate will be one of the seven to eight teams representing Penn, and the freshmen hope ultimately to earn another shot at the $1,000,000.

"It's a really expansive network where you get to meet a lot of people," Yau said. "It's just like a second chance."

Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that the Hult Prize was established by the Clinton Global Initiative and that the final round is in London. This version now reflects that it was established by Ahmad Ashkar and that the final round will be at the United Nations. The DP regrets the errors.