Two Rutgers Teams compete to win $1,000,000 Hult Prize

Two teams made up of Rutgers University students and Alum are moving on in a competition that could award them a $1 million for creating a startup company.

Widely regarded as the 'Nobel Prize for students,' the Hult Prize challenges university students from around the world to dream up ideas for profitable startups that aim to solve humanity's greatest challenges.  Finalists are whittled down to a 'Top Six' through a competitive tournament process, which spans 12 months and includes over 200 startup events on several levels: campus, country, regional, and global.   Rounds of competition span six continents, one hundred countries and two hundred cities, engaging bright and talented students from over one thousand universities to put their business minds to work creating sustainable startup solutions to complicated global issues.

Melissa Diep, a Rutgers Business School senior, is founder and leader of Change Booths, one of the RU teams competing.  This is a collaborative project aimed at bringing Internet access to urban communities with a limited ability to go online. “We’re all working on the project in order to try to bridge the digital divide in many underserved areas,” Diep said. “A main goal of ours is to work very closely with communities where the world’s poorest reside, in order to connect this population to the global economy and all of its benefits.”

More than 60 percent of the world’s population cannot use the Internet at present, said Aishwarya Sharma, a Rutgers Business School senior. Free Internet access will help these communities by letting users check workplace and education websites. The main advantage Change Booths has over other teams is that their idea brings technology to the communities they want to help by building it, rather than asking people to use their own devices, Diep said. “There’ll be free Internet access points in urban areas,” Sharma said.

Diep, who is leading the team, said she originally thought of Change Booths while competing at the Google Community Leaders Program case competition. Her team of four beat about 100 other competitors to win that contest.

Since then, her team has grown to include Mandev Singh, Raghav Bhardwaj and Rigved Tummala from the School of Engineering, Jacqueline Chen from the School of Arts and Sciences, University alumni David Karivalis and Nick Sahler, a partner from outside the University. They applied to the regional finals and beat nearly 25,000 other candidates. Change Booths will be competing in San Francisco in March.

Urban Seed, composed of Rutgers Business School seniors Daniel Reji and David Shah, School of Arts and Sciences senior Chisanim Egbelu and alumnus Myles Jackson, will be attending the Boston contest, having won first place at a Hult competition held at Rutgers, Shah said.  Urban Seed will tackle the problem of global food waste, he said. They want to change how food gets from one location to another and how it is stored to ensure not only its longevity, but also that the people who need it will be able to eat it.

“The issue’s not really food shortage or that food’s in the wrong hands, just that there is waste because the process is imperfect or not complete,” he said. “We found a way to make the process more efficient, to get the food where it needs to be.”

Umair Masood, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, organized the contest at Rutgers and is an official representative from the Hult Organization. “Basically I was selected to host this competition here at Rutgers.  The judges at the event were told to base their evaluations on the actual criteria used by the Hult Competition, he said.  Urban Seed, showed a realistically sustainable idea in terms of business models, he said.

The journey for the Hult Prize continues March 11-12th at five regional semi-final rounds held simultaneously in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai. 1200 shortlisted entrepreneurs will travel from around the globe to pitch their game-changing ideas. One winning enterprise per region will go onto the summer incubation program, where they will join Hult Prize Founder and CEO, Ahmad Ashkar for a 7-week bootcamp focused on rapid prototyping, pressure testing and commercialization. 

Both teams are now getting ready for their respective regional contests. Winners of those events will eventually have the opportunity to compete in the global final in September.