In partnership with the United Nations, the Hult Prize challenge is the largest student competition and crowdsourcing platform dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing social problems. Every year, over 2000 colleges and universities from over 100 countries organize this competition on campus. The winning teams then go on to the regional finals, ultimately competing for one of 40 spots in an incubator. The two best teams are then selected to take part in the global final held at the UN headquarters in New York, with a chance of winning $1 million of seed capital for their start-up.
This year’s Hult Prize will be awarded to the team whose project has the highest potential to create employment for 10,000 young people within the next decade. Alessandra Mantovani, Ludivine Berouard and Louisa Kuehme are hoping to win the Prize with their ProTeen project. Louisa talks about their business idea, their journey to London for the regional finals and their hopes for the future.
Ludivine, Alessandra and I met this year on the MSc in Sustainability and Social Innovation Program at HEC Paris. Ludivine had worked in the Ugandan coffee industry during her gap year, which inspired her to create more sustainable waste management models in rural Africa. Recently, she and Alessandra won a place onto the HEC incubator after their MAWA project topped the long list of new businesses pitched as part of this year’s Start-Up Launchpad program. MAWA aims to reduce carbon emissions and farming costs in rural Africa by using Black Soldier Flies to process organic waste and become protein-rich feed for livestock.
Ludivine, Alessandra and I decided to collaborate for the Hult Prize challenge. Together, we discussed how MAWA could be combined with a social impact initiative that could create 10,000 jobs over the next ten years. And so we came up with ProTeen: insect farm franchises operated by African youths, part of a wider project tackling waste generation, food insecurity, climate change and unemployment.
We recently travelled to London for the Regional Finals after winning over the jury at HEC Paris. Unfortunately, our journey did not start out as planned. Less than 24 hours before our departure to London, we found out that our Eurostar train was cancelled and we had to book a last minute, early morning flight instead. We were rather exhausted when we finally arrived at the Hult Business School in London for an induction event and then journeyed to our AirBnB, where we stayed up late that night to craft our slides and perfect our pitch.
Each of the 58 teams pitched their idea one by one in front of all the other candidates and a panel of 10 judges, who enjoyed our presentation and even called us back for additional question time, seemingly intrigued by our project. Only after each team had delivered their presentation were we able to find out who the winners were. Our group was amongst six shortlisted teams called up to the stage to pitch our projects again.
We had six minutes to convince the jury of our project’s potential and to send us to the incubator, with the chance of being selected for the final in New York. After a round of enthusiastic applause and a long, stressful break during which the judges deliberated, we were thrilled to be invited back onto the stage along with a team from the University of Oxford. We had ranked as joint first teams and won the Hult Prize Regional Finals.
I would not have gotten this far without the help, support and sheer brilliance of my teammates, the HEC alumni who I have met since I joined the SASI program, and the professors who agreed to meet us as early at 8am to provide feedback on our pitch.
My classmates on the SASI program are extraordinary and there is something different I admire in every one of them. They have taught me so much about public speaking, asking the right questions, and, most importantly, determination. In this spirit, we are determined to get through the next stage of the Hult Prize challenge; a six-week incubator in a UK castle, bringing together the top 40 teams in the competition for coaching, mentoring and project development. By the end of the program, six teams will be selected for the final at the United Nations in New York this coming September. I have a feeling we might be amongst them.