Earlier this month 10 teams competed in the inaugural Hult Prize at St. Thomas competition, for the chance to automatically advance to the Regional Finals in one of six cities around the world.

The Hult Prize aims to identify and launch the most compelling social business ideas — startup enterprises that tackle grave issues faced by billions of people. Winners receive $1 million in seed capital, as well as mentorship and advice from the international business community. The 2015 Hult Prize “President’s Challenge” specifically asks teams to build sustainable and scalable social enterprises to address the early childhood education gap in kids 0-6 years old.

The winning UST team proposed the Edusling, a product targeting babies between the ages of 0-18 months in urban slums globally. The product would provide early childhood education in this critical age bracket where more than 75% of brain growth occurs in babies. This team—James Iliff, Oscar Cediel, Latifah Kiribedda, Ruma Gupte and Sandra Pastrana—will  advance to the 2015 Hult Prize regional competition, taking place March 13-15, 2015.

At St. Thomas, a total of 41 student competitors participated. The students represented the Opus College of Business (UST MBA, Schulze School of Entrepreneurship), School of Law, College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education, Leadership and Counseling. Ideas ranged from technology solutions (software), community gardens, games, and toys and beyond. Of the 10 competing teams, four advanced to the final round of the UST competition.

Finalist Concepts

The KnowBall, presented by Erin Bakken, Keith Coleman and Mark Marotz is envisioned to replace a child’s inanimate soccer ball with one that is dynamic and interactive. Electronic components (lights, sounds, motion sensor) would facilitate games that foster critical cognitive skills like counting, adding, grammar, and vocabulary, as the ball is kicked. With KnowBall, a specially trained or involved supervisor is not required enabling it to be quickly adopted in poverty-stricken areas all over the world.

Students Chris Jensen, Chris Wilkins and Nicolas Styles proposed Children’s Story Time, a website that gives parents an online platform to assimilate digitized children’s e-books and interactive gamification software. This online store will provide content like licensed animated characters, illustrative backgrounds, music composition and parents’ voice narration to provide their children with an interactive storytelling experience.

Allison Cambronne, Any Montenegro, Karen Sorensen and Nyasha Mutandwa proposed Easy ECE. This tool would engage caregivers with new ways of teaching their children via a daily text message program. It would connect caregivers to by providing community incentives based on participation and create an ECE software platform to empower others around the world to be a part of the mission.

Teams were evaluated by an impressive panel of judges:

  • Brian Abraham, Ph.D., Associate Dean, Schulze School of Entrepreneurship
  • Astein Osei, DLTL Principal, Osseo Area Schools
  • Scott Gilyard, Retired, Past-President, UnitedHealth Group Division, Express-Scripts, Inc.
  • Bethany Mammenga, General Manager, CityKid Java
  • Maureen Ramirez, Policy and Research Director, Growth and Justice
  • Julie Baker, Chair, Childcare Accreditation Program Fundraising Committee, Twin Cities United Way
  • Terrance Kwame-Ross, Executive Director, Origins Program-Education for Equity
  • Mark Muckerheide, Sr. Group Manager, Community Relations, Target
  • Dr. Art Rolnick, Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
  • Fred Rose, Co-Director, Acara Institute on the Environment and Vice-Chairman of the Board, MN Social Impact Center

All nine remaining teams (and others interested in participating) are still eligible to apply via the Hult Prize general applicant process which closes December 21.

The regional competitions will take place in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai. The six regional champion teams will receive a one-year membership into the Clinton Global Initiative and an opportunity to spend the summer at the Hult Prize Accelerator, an innovative incubator for social enterprise. These teams will then present their idea at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual meeting in September 2015. The winner of the live competition will be awarded $1 million in startup capital.

Learn more about the impact of the Hult Prize

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About The Author

Clark Gregor has more than a decade of business marketing, communication and public relations experience, primarily in higher education, with shorter stints in corporate public relations and the federal government. At the University of St. Thomas he manages communications at the Opus College of Business and edits the university blog for graduate business programs, Opus Magnum along with other marketing efforts.

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