CMC Students Tackle Hult Prize Challenge
From left to right, Winning Team (front) : Umar Farooq ’17, Vanessa Liu ’17, Khadija Hassanali ’17, and Sarah Sanbar ’17 ; From left to right, Judges (back row): Scott Sherman, Carolina Sheinfold, and Mietek Boduszynski
By Connor Bloom ’19
Vanessa Liu ’17, Sarah Sanbar ’17, Umar Farooq ’17, and Khadija Hassanali ’17 broke into grins of disbelief and joy as Scott Sherman, Senior Director of Social Innovation and Co-Curricular Programming at the Kravis Leadership Institute, revealed that they had just won the third annual Hult Prize Competition at Claremont McKenna College. The judges had deemed their team and their idea, IllumiNation, to have the potential to be the most disruptive, feasible, scalable, and impactful social venture of the 10 teams that presented on Saturday November 12th, 2016.
The Hult Prize is a global case competition which was first held in the spring of 2010 as the Hult Global Case Challenge. Hosted by the Hult International Business School, and since 2013 in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the competition seeks to crowd source sustainable, social entrepreneurial ventures from the brightest young minds around the world in order to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. Each year, President Bill Clinton proposes a topic, a challenge in the world that needs fixing. Examples from the last few years have been early childhood education and crowded urban spaces.
The Hult Prize first came to Claremont McKenna three years ago in 2014. Because the on-campus competition is able to attract at least ten teams, the winner automatically advances to regionals in San Francisco. From there, they will compete with other teams to move onto the Hult Prize Accelerator, a six-week intensive entrepreneurial program focused on developing the team’s ideas into full-fledged business ventures. At the end of the six-week camp, in September, the teams will present their finalized social business ventures to a panel including President Clinton. The prize? —one million dollars to turn their pitch into reality, one million dollars to try to change the world. The 2017 Hult Prize Challenge is “Refugees—Reawakening Human Potential,” and focuses on, “…restoring the rights and dignity of people and societies who may be, or are forced into motion due to social injustices, politics, economic pressures, climate change, and war.” (Hult Prize Foundation)
This year’s on-campus competition was cohosted by impACT and the Kravis Leadership Institute. Jessie Capper ’17 and a co-lead of impACT described the planning of the competition as “intense” but ultimately “extremely rewarding”. In her words, “Seeing so many students at CMC who are passionate about their ventures, passionate about reaching out and putting themselves out there in an effort to change the world for the better is truly humbling and gives me great hope for the future.” The KLI and impACT teams begun planning in late summer and spent the last several months designing everything from t-shirts, to judges’ gift bags, to Snapchat filters for the event. In addition, in the lead-up to the event, the organizers brought in three special guests that each led a separate workshop to help prepare the teams for the competition. The guests included Jay Conger, Institute Chair and Henry R. Kravis Research Professor of Leadership Studies at the Kravis Leadership Institute, Heather Ferguson, Assistant Professor of History at Claremont McKenna College, and Neela Rajendra, Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives at the Kravis Leadership Institute. Alina Rainsford ’20 found the workshops to be, “…extremely helpful…honestly the workshops were fantastic, especially Neela’s workshop on how to give a better pitch. I definitely learned a lot much of which is skills that can be applied to other competitions and presentations that I do in the future.”
On Saturday November 12th, 2016, students began to fill Bauer Forum at Claremont McKenna College. They arrived in teams of two, three, or four, laptops in hand, blazers and dresses color-coordinated with their teammates. The energy in the room was palpable as the teams chatted, met judges, and finalized some last minute details about their presentations. Everyone in the room knew the stakes: present a solid pitch, gain automatic admission to the San Francisco Regionals, and perhaps compete for one million dollars, and maybe even change the world. As one looked around the room at the assemblage of students, it was hard not to notice that they varied widely in terms of major and class year. Some teams were seniors majoring in Economics and IR, others were sophomores majoring in PPE and Econ-Engineering, still others were freshmen perhaps unsure of their future track through CMC. The range of experience also varied, from teams that had competed numerous times, to students who had never heard of the Hult Prize or participated in a case competition before this year. However, they were all united by one thing: their dream to launch a social venture and change the world.
As the day progressed, teams pitched ideas ranging from vertical farms to an app billed as “the Craig’s List of refugee camps”. The ideas were varied and inspired with many revolving around the notion that most refugees have access to a cellular device. Each team was given 6 minutes to present before a 4-minute Q&A session with the judging panel which comprised of Mietek Boduszynski, a Professor of U.S. Foreign Policy at Pomona College and former diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, Carolina Sheinfold, a Project Coordinator at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and Scott Sherman, Senior Director of Social Innovation and Co-Curricular Programming at the Kravis Leadership Institute. At times the judges seemed pleasantly surprised with the level of preparation that teams had done and the depth to which they understood the topic and true issues at hand. At other points the judges asked questions related to the teams’ business plans that they couldn’t answer definitively but nonetheless expressed the willingness to learn and modify their strategy. At the end of the competition day, each team and individual participating had hopefully taken something meaningful away from the experience. As Vanessa Liu ’17 said, “The Hult Prize experience has shown me how HARD it is to start your own social enterprise…it’s hard to sustain the level of dedication and passion needed to turn an idea into reality, but I’ve found that it’s much easier to do when you’re doing it with a team of people you love spending time with.”
Vanessa Liu ’17 and her team would later go on to be declared the winners of CMC’s competition in what turned out to be a very close race for first place. Her team will spend the next several weeks refining their idea with mentorship from KLI and other professors as they prepare for Regionals in San Francisco. Liu ’17 made note that the competition isn’t always easy, but, “…the process is a blast because you’re rallying behind an idea you truly believe can change the world.” Perhaps this quote best sums up the philosophy of the Hult Prize itself. One can only hope that as Claremont McKenna, a school which prides itself on the leaders it produces, continues to move forward, it places a stronger priority on challenging those future leaders to change the world, to make it a better place.
To view the Hult Prize press release click here.