First Years Not Afraid to Tackle Pressing Social Issues
The Hult Prize Foundation is a start-up accelerator for budding young social entrepreneurs emerging from the world’s universities. It is the largest student competition for social good. The annual, year-long competition crowd-sources ideas from students after challenging them to solve a pressing social issue around topics such as food security, water access, energy, and education. Winners receive $1million in seed capital, donated by the Hult Family (Founders of EF), as well as mentorship and advice from the international business community. The Prize is a partnership between Hult International Business School and the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). This year’s challenge addresses the issue of crowded urban spaces; last year’s challenge focused on early childhood education. I asked the winners of last year’s Babson Hult Prize Competition to share their experience with us. I am delighted that they agreed!
During our first year at Babson, we were part of a small group of friends who formed a team to work on several projects together; the Hult Prize Competition was probably the hardest. We were forced to learn on-the-go and really trust and rely on our fellow team members. After winning the Babson Hult Prize Competition, we spent December through March developing new business models and critiquing every part of our solution. Although our team did not advance beyond the Boston regional finals, here are a few lessons that really stick out from our time competing to bring early childhood education to ten million children in the urban slums.
Products scale easier than services.
Initially our solution revolved around providing services to children in India. The main problem we faced was that services work very well in local areas, but they are extremely difficult to cost-effectively scale. After much debate and modeling, our team decided to pivot to a product-based solution which increased our potential reach by millions of children, shortened the estimated period of time it would take to reach them, dramatically cut costs, and reduced logistics and operations needed to successfully launch our company.
As a team of first-year students, we had a lot to learn due to our lack of experience in the space. We had never studied, nor really thought much about early childhood education, so our team had to learn everything we could and identify the key issues quickly. The most helpful source we found was a professor from another college who was open to sharing everything she had learned over her career. She essentially gave us a crash course on early childhood education over several hours. Finding and working with a domain expert provided our team a depth of knowledge many of our competitors didn’t have and allowed our team to disregard small issues and really focus on the deep seeded education problems facing children in urban slums.
Build a Diverse Team.
Although our team was fairly diverse with students from different countries, backgrounds, and career aspirations, we were all business students. We didn’t realize this was an impediment until listening to some of the other teams present. Often times, instead of every member being a generalist, teams had members who specialized in their field. Some teams were comprised of members with backgrounds in engineering, business, research on childhood education, and statistics. The variety of expertise on one team allowed them to think of different solutions, flesh-out ideas more thoroughly, and even produce prototypes.
After the competition, our team decided not to continue with our solution because we were focused on getting summer internships. Overall, the competition was an amazing experience for our team; we were able to push ourselves to learn a completely new subject, and test our ability to work in a small team over the course of several months. We would definitely work together again, but if given the option, we would work on an issue that we are more knowledgeable about.