Hult Prize 2016 – “The Year of the App”

[Written by Serik Sharipov]

The Hult Prize case challenge for 2017 is out. Why should you participate?

It is safe to say that the Hult Prize competition was one of the highlights of my first MBA year at ESADE. It gave me a chance to explore a largely unknown to me area of social entrepreneurship. It helped me hone my skills during preparation and the pitching rounds of the contest. It provided a great opportunity to network with ambitious bright students from all over the world at the regional meet in London. Most importantly, it was a fun project to work on with my friends and classmates, Betsy, Moni, and Lauren (Team Tuyyo!).

It is for all these reasons that I can say now that, given the chance, I would do it again, and I encourage everybody to try their luck this year. (I know I am thinking about it!)

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Hult Prize is a global competition to select six teams from different regions to go to a start-up accelerator for social entrepreneurship in the United States, after which the finalists present their ideas one last time to a panel of judges in New York City. The competition is sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative, so President Clinton is usually on that panel. The grand prize is USD 1,000,000 of seed capital to help you get your idea off the ground. ESADE has reached this stage several years in a row, which is a great achievement in itself, but, I believe, it also grants great credibility and visibility to any team from our business school that competes at the regional and global levels. Our team saw this in London, where everybody tried to talk to us and sit in on our pitch. We felt so famous!

Last year’s challenge – to double the incomes of 10 million people living in crowded urban areas by 2022 – was unlike anything I had been asked to solve before. I come from a career in development finance, where I worked for a multilateral institution with global reach, but even for me the target was very ambitious.

This is what Hult Prize is about – go big or go home!

We developed an idea of a two-sided platform that would bring service seekers and service providers together, where the latter would come from lower-income areas. Access was to be ensured through a website and an app, with the service starting in Lima, Peru, as its testing ground, and then quickly expanding into other cities and countries in Latin America, South-East Asia, and Eastern Europe. What struck me in London was how many teams, independently of each other, came up with similar ideas, which, to me, only proved the point that there was an identifiable need and market for a service like Tuyyo. In the end, one of the finalists at the regional meet was an app like ours, so despite not progressing further, I felt like our app, in its better formulation, lived on to compete with equally interesting start-up ideas.

On the road to London I learned a few things.

First, you have to leverage your network and available resources to constantly improve your pitch. Having won the Hult Prize @ ESADE round, we were generously offered time and advice by several professors and non-academic staff on campus. We pitched repeatedly, answered questions, all the while improving and tweaking our story board and key assumptions. I will always be thankful for the harshest critiques because those were the most eye-opening (and adrenaline jolting) ones of all!

Secondly, it is important to challenge yourself to think laterally and to try to come up with a unique solution to the year’s problem. Don’t forget there will be hundreds of teams competing globally for a seat among the six Finalists. Yours has to stand out. For instance, one of the final pitches in London that impressed me the most was about a technology that combined open source software with biometric hardware (fingerprinting tools) to create personal records for people who lack proper identification and, therefore, are not fully integrated in the economy. This idea, SimPrints, eventually reached the grand final.

Last but not least, the team is the most important thing for this type of competitions. Your idea may be a rough draft of your final pitch, but you cannot work to improve it if you don’t enjoy spending hours (and days) with your teammates. In the run-up to our trip to the UK, sponsored by ESADE, my team dropped everything else we were doing and we holed up for hours together, working to perfect the deck and the presentation. It may sound intense, but we had lots of laughs and fun moments during this time! I guess, battlefield camaraderie does exist.

All in all, I loved the experience. I love talking about it, I have very fond memories of the competition and its challenges, and it made me more aware of alternative professional opportunities that exist out there.

So what are you waiting for? Put together a team and get to work!

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