A Recap of the Hult Prize Semi-Finals (And How You Can Get Involved)

I recently participated as a judge in the Semi-Final Rounds of the Hult Prize, an annual competition organized by The Hult Prize Foundation which is dedicated to launching the world’s next wave of social entrepreneurs. The Hult Prize encourages the world’s most passionate minds to compete in teams to solve the planet’s biggest challenges with innovative ideas for sustainable start-ups. Annual Hult Prize winners can make their ideas a reality with the help of a $1 million dollar prize in seed funding.

Each year, a new challenge is made to solve a social impact problem and small teams from around the world compete to solve that problem and win the prize. This year’s “President’s Challenge” (set by former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Foundation) was called “Refugees: Reawakening Human Potential”. This challenge focused on restoring the rights and dignity of people who may be or are forced into motion due to social injustices, politics, economic pressures, climate change and war. The idea behind the Hult Prize is that young people and their collective wisdom is the only way forward, and the aim of this particular challenge was to reach 10 million people by 2022.

A number of key points drove this year’s challenge:

  • The Hult Prize Foundation estimates the total number of global refugees to be 1 billion—a stark contrast to the UN and generally accepted number of 60 million.
  • Refugee cycles have been redefined into four stages—Pre-Movement, In-Motion, Temporary Relocation and Permanent Status—and the 2017 challenge outlined very clear areas for disruptive innovation in each stage of the cycle.
  • Refugees represent one of the world’s largest untapped economic opportunities, and reawakening human potential in refugees in motion unlocks the need for social innovation across a range of social service categories.

Local competitions are held at universities around the world with thousands of teams competing for the Hult Prize each year. Eventually the top ideas get to the Semi-Finals in Cambridge (Boston), San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai. I had the honor of participating at the Cambridge event where I convened with other judges at the Hult International Business School.

Judges were split into three groups of about five individuals and each group would judge around 20 teams. Each team had just a few minutes to convince us why their idea was the best and to answer some key business and technical questions about their concepts. After almost a full day of presentations, our group of judges made the difficult, final decisions on our set. Now it was time to pick an overall winner.

Heading over to the Museum of Science, we gathered in a large auditorium where each judging panel announced its top two teams. Those six teams then competed in front of the entire judging panel and the audience. Afterwards the judges went off to dinner and deliberations where the discussions were passionate. With so many interesting ideas on display, it made the decision all the more difficult. All day we had been looking at teams with ideas like a new education platform and a job matching service, a hydroponic garden, solar-powered transportation, cheaper fuel sources and experimental nanotechnology. Entrepreneurs also presented ideas on identity retention solutions utilizing blockchain, p2p skills reference builders, online merchandizing artwork and on and on.

After much debate, we chose Roshni Rides to move forward in the competition. Roshni Rides, an e-rickshaw service that offers refugee camp residents an affordable way to reach jobs, schools and vital services, will now join the other finalists and move on to an intensive accelerator in Amman, Jordan where they will learn how to fully realize their vision. After the accelerator, it’s back to the Hult Prize Finals where one team will be awarded $1 million dollars to help their vision succeed. Past winners have gone on to do great things and we are wishing these teams all the success they deserve. After all, they aren’t just building businesses, they are making the world a better place.

I’m looking forward to being their mentor over the coming months and even the teams that didn’t win this round deserve nurturing and support because they are trying to do great things for the world. If you are interested in participating in the Hult Prize or becoming a judge, contact the organization at www.hultprize.org or drop me a message at sweiner@neueon.com. I’ll be happy to answer your questions.