MC students accept Hult Prize challenge

MC students accept Hult Prize challenge

Oct. 26, 2015

International students at Maryville College always introduce the campus community to new things when they enroll – language, dress, custom, religion, worldview.

Souha Arbi, a 20-year-old sophomore from Tunisia, is introducing the College to the Hult Prize. And she hopes the Maryville College community will never be the same.

Founded in 2009 by Hult International Business School graduate Ahmad Ashkar and run by the Hult Prize Foundation in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the Hult Prize is a start-up accelerator for aspiring young social entrepreneurs enrolled in universities around the world. Now believed to be the world’s largest student competition and crowdsourcing platform for social good, the prize requires students to work in teams to develop innovative ideas for sustainable start-up enterprises that can solve the world’s biggest social problems. Winners receive $1 million in seed capital, as well as mentorship and advice from the international business community to launch their new company.

In 2012, former President Bill Clinton and TIME magazine called the Hult Prize “one of the top five ideas changing the world.”

Founder Ashkar has called it the “Nobel prize for students.”

Life-changing experience

Arbi participated in the competition last year as a freshman at her home university of Tunis Business School and said the experience changed her life. The 2015 challenge was to come up with innovative ways of providing, by 2020, quality education to 10 million children under 6 years of age who are living in urban slums. Arbi’s team proposed recycling plastic to make educational eco-friendly tablets for the children while their parents worked in the recycling factory.

“Through the competition, I discovered myself – my true self – and I’ve been genuinely happier ever since. I now know how far I am willing to go to get the job done, what motivates me, what challenges me, and I even know how efficiently I perform when sleep deprived!” she said. “No course has ever gotten me that engaged, that committed. I now see the world as people suffering from things, and the details that would make their lives easier if done differently; I can't see it otherwise anymore.

“Instead of imagining, I move to action,” she added.

Participating in last year’s competition, Arbi, whose year-long study in the United States is made possible by the U.S. Department of State's Tunisia Undergraduate Scholarship Program (Tunisia UGRAD), received an offer to serve as a campus director for the prize – a position that involves spreading awareness on campus of the Hult Prize and its specific challenge, but also organizing events like workshops and competitions.

Arbi accepted the offer before even arriving on the MC campus. She said she was so excited about offering a “life-changing experience” to other young adults that it didn’t matter that she hadn’t yet met the first MC student. And she saw opportunities in its liberal arts environment.

“At my university, we only have business-related majors, so the fields of expertise are kind of limited, but it is different for MC with all the majors offered within one campus,” she explained. “Since last year the challenge was about early education, I could literally imagine the education department students teaming up with business and computer science majors to come up with new-level ideas. That was one of the biggest incentives for me to apply as a campus director.”

Contest is large, global

The 2016 Hult Prize Challenge is “Crowded Urban Spaces.” Specifically, competition organizers are asking teams to propose “sustainable, scalable and fast-growing social enterprises that double the income of 10 million people residing in crowded urban spaces, by better connecting people, goods, services and capital.”

In addition to the specific challenge offered every year, students are provided a multi-page case statement that provides teams with relevant statistical information, personal stories, guiding questions and examples of success.

Teams of students have to be made up of at least three students, but no more than four. Alumni of the institution may comprise one member per team. Every institution must field at least 10 teams before they can enter local competition.

One hundred fifty schools will field at least 1,500 teams around the globe. Another 11,000 teams apply through an online application.

As the host of a local Hult Prize event, Maryville College joins some of the most prestigious schools around the United States and world in recruiting students for social entrepreneurship: the University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern, Yale, Duke, the London School of Economics and Political Science, HEC Paris, Fudan Universityc, the University of Toronto and the University of EdinburghVanderbilt is the only other college or university in Tennessee participating.

From its event, Maryville College will send one winning team to regional competition in March. Regional competitions are held in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai.  

Regional winners then move on to an “accelerator” round in which teams build their prototypes in a seven-week summer bootcamp-style incubation program that involves mentorship and advice from game-changing entrepreneurs and global innovation consulting firms. (Previous teams have also found investors for their ideas at this stage.) These top Hult Prize teams then pitch their social enterprise ideas to world leaders at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York City in September. Nobel Peace Prize winner and Bangladeshi social entrepreneur, banker and economist Muhammad Yunus is always a judge in the final round.

The winning team is awarded $1 million to implement its idea.

Throughout the process, students meet and network with students who share a passion for business and social change, learn from global business and industry leaders, and have the opportunity to travel.

It’s exciting, Arbi said.

“Once you get to experience the excitement of the competition and the ups and downs of working in a team, you really can’t un-live that, and you start wanting to get more people involved and see how it will turn out,” she said. “You never know who will have THE winning idea that is worth one million dollars. It could be a student from a very far-away city who has never even joked about starting a social business that will impact 10 million people’s lives.”

Contest aligns with College’s mission

Members and sponsors of Maryville College’s Non-Profit Leadership Alliance (NLA) have joined Arbi in registering teams and helping to spread the word. The aim of the Hult Prize – to solve the planet’s biggest challenges with innovative ideas for sustainable start-up enterprises – aligns with the NLA’s focus, and it strongly aligns with the College’s mission.

“Arguably, a Maryville College education is, and maybe always has been, a social entrepreneurship education,” said Dr. John Gallagher, professor of management.

Dr. Scott Henson, associate professor of political science, is encouraging students to join teams. Citing the motto of the College’s founder and its mission statement, he said he believes the Hult Prize is a tangible way for students to use their classroom knowledge and experiences to live out the College’s mission.

“Social entrepreneurship seeks to use successful and sustainable business approaches to solve complex social problems,” he said. “The Hult Prize is an excellent opportunity for students to practically experience this transformational shift in the way we think about business and society.

“This way of thinking is not new to Maryville College as it embodies our mission to ‘dedicate lives of creativity and service to the peoples of the world’ and, in the words of our founder, Isaac Anderson ‘Do good on the largest possible scale.’”

Everyone wins

While only one team wins the $1 million prize, Arbi said that previous runners-up have scored investments from non-governmental organizations and businesses that exceed the cash prize. Regardless of who walks away with money, Arbi argues that all participants win because their eyes are opened to challenges and opportunities.

“Great things happen when people realize their purpose in life,” she added. “I want to help them get there.”

As a result of participating in the Hult Prize competition, Arbi hopes to eventually own a successful multi-national business. She plans to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship and return to the United States to study for an MBA.

Her definition of “successful business” includes a focus on making people’s lives better.

“That approach is more profitable for businesses in the long run,” Arbi said. “Building a for-profit business to provide a product to people who can’t afford it and then donating money to charities is absolutely absurd. For-profit goals and social impact should start as one. That is how I think businesses should be.”

Application deadline soon

The deadline to apply to apply and be on a Maryville College team is Fri., Nov. 6.

Arbi has planned another information session scheduled for 7 p.m., Oct. 26, in Gibson Hall.

For more information, visit hultprizeat.com/Maryville.

By Karen Beaty Eldridge '94, Executive Director for Marketing & Communications


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,146.