We’re very excited to feature a piece written by the winners of the 2019 “Hult@UMD” competition, as they reflect on their experience from the initial concept for their idea all the way to competing at the Regional level of the Hult Prize in Boston.
How to Change the World: One Pitch at a Time
By Rasheeq Rayhan, MBA ’20
It all started with a lunch at Rudy’s Café on a fine November afternoon. My friend Alex Woo, a Master of Biomedical Engineering Candidate and Robert Fischell Institute Fellow, was working on a project to build a new medical device. We started to explore the implications of such a device if it were introduced in a developing country, where medical technology was mostly outdated, number of skilled doctors was inadequate and primary healthcare was highly expensive.
Just when we were coming out of Rudy’s, the TV display in the hallway caught our attention. It was about the Hult Prize, the world’s largest student competition that focuses on social impact, with this year’s challenge “to create 10,000 meaningful jobs in the next decade.” There’s a lot at stake: The final prize is $1 million to fund the winning social venture. I have always been passionate about making a difference in people’s lives. Studying business administration and economics as an undergrad exposed me to the field’s power and how it can be used as a tool to transform people’s lives. Both of us instantly knew that what we had just discussed over lunch could be applied to a global context and Hult Prize would be the perfect platform. We reached out to Justin Fenn, a brilliant Software Engineer and Undergraduate Computer Science major, who would complete our team.
The first step was to win the on-campus competition “Hult@UMD” hosted by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and the Center for Social Value Creation. Fifteen student teams pitched their ideas on November 30, 2018. The idea had to be simple enough to be adaptable in different economies as well as something that could be scaled quickly. And simple our idea was. We aimed to solve a major problem in the Indian healthcare market by providing fast primary care to the patients’ doorsteps. Although we were quite nervous, it was a tremendous opportunity to present our work in front of the judging panel that comprised of Maurice Boissiere, Bill Boyle, LaKisha Greenwade, Kristin Thompson, Tonia Wellons, and Polly Vail, all of whom were incredibly brilliant and highly respected in their own fields. The hard work really started after we won at UMD! We worked with Bill and Kristin to fine tune our idea and with their mentorship, we revamped the business pitch to be more market-focused. By March 16, 2018, the day of Boston regional final rolled around, we were confident and thrilled to take our idea to a broader audience.
More than 50,000 teams submitted their ideas and applications worldwide from over 100 countries. We had flown to Boston to compete with 40 teams comprised of the world’s top scholars. We were hoping to bag the $1 million prize for our social enterprise idea from Bill Clinton, the sponsor the competition. However, only one team would represent each region and go to the New York finals. So, the odds were high and victory was uncertain at best.
We planned on not sleeping because we needed to send our final presentation that night. Although our idea was ready, we still needed to prepare and rehearse. My MBA program at the Smith Business School taught me to work as a team. We took care of each other instinctively. When someone felt worn down, we would shift work to allow him to rest. With only six hours of sleep over two days, we arrived at the competition venue ahead of the time and submitted our presentation. We saw many teams still working on final tweaks, looking nervous yet passionate, energetic, polished and smart. At this point, all we could do was breathe deeply, release stress, believe in ourselves and enjoy the experience. I felt all of us were in place for the shining moment that we had strived for. We transformed our stress into positive energy. The opening pitch was smooth. The team presented with their heart and soul. One of the most satisfying moments was the Q&A, for which we prepared carefully. Our goal was to go in there with a really great pitch and idea and we definitely accomplished that.
In the networking session, we met leaders in the social enterprise scene including the founder and CEO of the Hult Prize Foundation, and one of the team members of last year’s Hult Prize Challenge winners. We interacted with teams that had flown in from all over the country and world. Each team had to pitch their idea in just six minutes. Dedication is too small a word to describe these teams. All of them had such unique and amazing ideas. No one approached the challenge in the same way or with the same idea. The passion in the presentations given was palpable. We definitely impressed the judges with our concept and presentation. By a special request, they called us for another round of Q&A as we were already among the top teams in the competition. We were also genuinely impressed by the strength of all of the teams and there were so many compelling proposed solutions that the panel of judges really had a difficult time choosing just one team to advance to the next round. Unfortunately, we did not make it and a team from the St. Olaf College was named the regional winner.
Advancing in the regional competition allowed our team to gain a unique cultural perspective that we certainly are not going to take for granted. We arrived in Boston somewhat aware of who we would be competing against. We were still impressed by the diversity of the teams. So, despite not achieving our ultimate goal, the experience was truly unforgettable. We had our moment, brief as it was, and it felt amazing! Even though at the end of the day, we did not win, I think the world won. There is this movement of young dynamic people who have the passion and drive to change the world. We all share the same belief that we need to start enterprises that are not just profit-driven but work to make people’s lives better. To be surrounded by such a large and diverse group of innovators and leaders was incredible and encouraging. We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to pitch our idea at this global event, and it inspired us to further pursue our dream of social entrepreneurship and creating change through a sustainable business model. It has shown us the power of social entrepreneurship and its ability to solve problems facing our countries that NGOs were failing to address. I learned so much about how people are trying to change the world; the innovation and potential solutions to unemployment and poverty. It renewed my mission to make a difference in people’s lives, especially in my country, Bangladesh. I learned that economic development is not just limited to what I learn at school, that I can, in fact, use my education to come up with innovative solutions.
We spent the following day together touring Boston on St. Patrick’s Day, shopping for local gifts, and sharing our vision for life and the future. For those who are reading this, life has many twists and turns. Losing can mean winning. And sometimes winning takes on an entirely new meaning. I have met people from dozens of countries and now keep in touch with people from all over the world. I have made friends for life in this competition who inspired me greatly. It gave me a lot of drive to see passionate, motivated teams that were just as committed to solving the problem as we were. This is only the beginning of a very long road ahead as I am excited to take all that I learned from all these experiences I have had during my Hult Prize journey back with me to make a real difference in my communities. And I hope we paved the way for other UMD teams to compete in the future and actively participate in start-up competitions encouraging change in the world. How amazing is that?