A group of UW-Madison students will compete next month in San Francisco for the shot at $1 million in seed money from the Hult Prize. The contest searches for the most promising business idea that solves a global problem, and the team is one of 300 chosen from a pool of 10,000 applicants worldwide.
The group—Eliza Swedenborg (MBA ’14), Laura Jacobson (Master of Public Health ’13), Ashish Khandelwal (MBA ’15), Andrew Mullvain (MBA ’15), and Caitrin O’Shea (MBA ’15)—will pitch their start-up idea to a panel of judges, with the hope of moving on to the finals, where six teams will spend the summer in an accelerator program developing their products and businesses. Former president Bill Clinton will award the final prize in September at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting.
The competition focuses each year on a different social problem, and the organizers tasked students to tackle chronic disease in urban slums in 2014. Swedenborg, who served in the Peace Corps in Mali, said she hoped to be part of a team this year regardless of the topic.
“I would love to work in social enterprise in one way or another as a career, so this is a great opportunity for me to apply the tools I have learned in business school to try to create social as well as economic value,” Swedenborg said. “There are many times I think back to my life in Mali, and it seems like a dream. I understand how lucky I am to be here, getting this prestigious education. And I intend to make the most of it.”
Rather than focusing on a specific technology, the team will concentrate their pitch on the business plan, thinking about unmet needs and systems already in place to address chronic disease.
“Researching for the Hult prize has shown me just how wide the scope of possibility is for supply chain management,” said O’Shea, who has a design/engineering background. “There are so many opportunities to do good and do well as a business, and that is definitely a cultural fit I will look for in a company after graduation.”
The group is certainly competing to advance their careers, but for each of them, there’s also a greater good in mind.
“I hope to be able to be a part of the solution to one of the world’s biggest problems. Even if we don’t win this time, we will still have a good experience that we can build on to create a better social enterprise in the future,” said Khandelwal.
The regional contest is one of six happening March 7-8, 2014 in Boston, London, Dubai, Shanghai, Sao Paulo, and San Francisco.
A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering and physics students
will compete in the San Paulo regional competition: Bimpe Olaniyan, a senior in mechanical engineering; Cedric Kovacs-Johnson, a senior in chemical engineering; Eric Ronning, a senior in mechanical engineering; and Jon Seaton, a graduate student in medical physics.