Written by Aimee Grace Tapeceria, Master of Social Entrepreneurship student, San Francisco campus, Class of 2016
The Hult Prize was founded by a Hult alumnus and is the world’s largest student social entrepreneurship competition. More than 10,000 students from universities across the globe compete to win USD 1 million in seed money for their business idea that aims to solve complex social issues. The competition is run in conjunction with former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, and the Clinton Global Initiative.
The Hult Prize is one of the events that students at all Hult campuses are encouraged to participate in. This year’s challenge is “Crowded Urban Spaces”, and during the campus competition last December, Musana emerging as the winner.
The captain, the dreamer, the people person… that’s what they call themselves, this team of 3 who are representing Hult San Francisco for the Regional Hult Prize Competition on March 11 and 12. Their business is called Musana (sun) because they want to harness the sun’s rays in making people’s lives better through the solar-powered Musana Carts. This is their story.
PART I: Before Hult
Her name is Manon Lavaud and at the age of 24, she is the youngest member of the team. She was born to a family of doctors and grew up in within a multi-cultural community in Reunion Island, a territory of France located in the Indian Ocean. She moved to France at the age 18 to earned her undergraduate degree in Human Science and Mathematics but after 2 years, she decided to move to Montreal, Canada to earn her Bachelor in Management and Finance degree from a business school there. While earning her degree, Manon spent a year as an exchange student in Korea, and used that time to also travel to the Philippines, Japan, Thailand, and Nepal.
After graduating in 2014, she spent a year in India working in microfinance for a French Non- Governmental Organization. Then she moved back to Paris to work as an intern for a firm that specialized in advising companies in post-war countries during which she was sent to Tanzania for a month to manage a team of field agents. Though she has mixed feelings about what she accomplished, Manon says that these experiences served as a defining moment of her life that made her realize that she wanted to work to make this world a better place.
When asked why she chose to come to Hult, she said she wanted to earn a Masters degree but didn’t really feel like MBA would be in line with her values and her passion for social development. After researching online she found the Master of Social Entrepreneurship program offered by Hult and after consulting with some mentors, she knew she found her match.
Her name is Nataliey “Taliey” Bitature. She was born 26 years ago to family of entrepreneurs in the United Kingdom, but spent her early childhood and primary education in Uganda. Her middle and high school years were spent in a boarding school in South Africa after which she moved back to the UK to earn her undergrad. She first began with Law but hated it so much that she switched a year later to English and History. But despite the switch she still felt that something was missing so she decided to take a break and fly back home.
While at home, Taliey was jokingly challenged by her father to teach for a year in a village church school where he served as a board member. Much to his surprise, she accepted the challenge, and spent the next year teaching English Grammar and Literature to high school students. She took it even further and organized a fund raising campaign so the school could build new classrooms buy computers for their students to use. It was then that she decided to go back to the UK and switch to Business and Education because that was the best way she could change people’s lives.
After graduating in 2013, she moved back to Uganda tried her hand at working, first for a bank and then for a farm, but decided neither was for her. It was after breaking her arm while attending a cousin’s wedding in the UK that the idea of starting a real estate agency began. A few months into the its operation she realized that one of her main problems was finding a reliable handyman to come do repairs for the homes that she was managing which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because after discussing this problem with another friend, they realized it could be another business opportunity!
So how did Hult come into the picture? Taliey explained that right before her graduation; she attended an MBA fair with her dad and was really impressed with Hult’s International Business School’s rotation program. But it was later on after she began working that she decided to pursue a Masters degree. She was advised to look for a program that fulfilled her passion for business and helping the less fortunate, and then she found the Master of Social Entrepreneurship. In coming to Hult, she had to put her two businesses on hold, but she knows that the experience she will gain here is something that will be crucial in success of her ventures.
The People Person
His name is Keisuke “Kei” Kubota, a 29-year-old whose name means “to help others”, hoped that he would live up to the name his parents gave him.
During the four years he spent earning his Marketing degree, he worked as a kids’ swimming coach for a private sports center. During that time, he came across an Australian child who could only speak English, and therefore limited his ability to instruct him. This experience served as Kei’s first motivation to learn English. After graduating in 2009, he spent 3 years working as a systems engineer before he decided act on his desire to learn English. So he took a break and spent a year New York City after which he came back to Japan and spent another year working as a staff for an English language school that helped 15-18 year old students planning to study abroad prepare their communication skills.
When asked how he came to Hult, Kei’s reply had a hint of fate written all over it. Last year in January 2015, two Japanese were kidnapped and beheaded by ISIS. The first one was Haruna Yukawa, a 42-year-old security contractor and second one was Kenji Goto, a 47-year-old journalist. But of the two, it was Kenji Goto’s death that shook Kei. Here was a man who only wanted to help stop the war in Syria by showing the world the horrors that the people there were experiencing through photos and videos and ended paying for it with his life.
During that terrible time, Kei remembered a book written by CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff “The Business of Changing the World” that he had read while earning his Marketing degree. He decided to go to San Francisco to talk to the author. Unfortunately, Kei found out that talking to Marc Benioff wasn’t as easy as just going to his office and asking for an appointment. But as fate would have it, it was through a random visit to Starbucks where their paths crossed, and it was through that conversation that Kei learned about social entrepreneurs. And it was through his exploration of the city that he discovered Hult and the Master of Social Entrepreneurship.
PART II: The Hult Prize Campus Competition
It all began with a Design Thinking activity during Social Innovation class under professor Elliot Adams. The class was told to find a partner and each member was given some arts and crafts materials to create a prototype of a certain business that they had drafted. Manon and Taliey were partners and had a grand time doing the task. It was then that Manon knew that if she was to join the Hult Prize, she wanted Taliey by her side.
“I told her, Taliey…You will do the Hult Prize, and you will do it with me” recalled Manon in describing what she said to convince Taliey to do the Hult Prize.
“I was a big fan of the Hult Prize but I didn’t think I’d have time for it. I just wanted to enjoy my year in San Francisco. But every time we would go out, Manon would keep trying to convince me, so after a few days, I just caved” laughs Taliey.
After completing their team, they began to work on a venture for India. Manon wanted to do it there because, after spending a year there, she wanted to do something for the people she had left behind in Daravi. They spend two months researching and trying to ask questions from the people they knew living in India. Their ideas evolved numerous times before coming up with the idea of providing electricity through solar backpacks.
Three weeks before the campus competition, they decided to rent a car and drive down to Draper University in San Mateo to pitch the idea during Start-Up Weekend. They felt very good because they got a lot of votes and were able to assemble a cool team with solar engineers and a mentor from India. But that feeling didn’t last long because next day, their idea was torn to pieces by their team, and told that their idea wouldn’t work in urban areas of India.
Taliey said that they sat outside that night really discouraged. “We were so screwed. We were supposed to present in three weeks and our idea was not going to work!”
So they went home that night and decided to scrap the whole idea and to start fresh.
The next problem they wanted to address was the current refugee crises in Europe, so they began looking for businesses opportunities in refugee camps. During their research, they found out that Uganda had 3 big refugee camps because they received people from the war torn neighboring countries. They discovered that the refugee camps were powered by solar energy provided by the UN, which led to them scrapping the refugee camp idea but continuing with the solar idea and this time in Uganda. But they still didn’t have a specific venture in mind. Then a week before the competition Taliey showed the team her drawing of a food cart with solar panels. Initially, they laughed at it, but after a few minutes of researching about it and realizing that it actually realistic, they decided that they would go with that idea.
The next few days were spent frantically researching and verifying information. They finally finished their power point presentation at 5am the morning of the contest.
Then they pitched… and won.
PART III: Kampala, Uganda
After they won the campus competition on December, the team knew that they would try their best to go to Uganda, but due to the astronomical plane ticket prices during Christmas break, they decided to take a much needed three week break and do it instead during Module B.
January arrived and the hectic Module B schedule was released. When the team met and looked at the schedule together, they decided that the lightest week (in terms of assignments and requirement submission) was the first week of February.
“I think we have a bit of Kamikaze mindset, because we left for Uganda even if we didn’t have the money to go” recalled Manon.
“We booked our ticket through an agency that gives 3 months credit to businesses so my parents used their company to book for us” added Taliey. “We started a YouCaring crowdfunding campaign, we spoke to our teammates and roommates and they agreed to support us”.
“We still haven’t paid for our ticket, but now we’ve got some money to be able to pay off some of it. We are hoping to get more in the next couple of weeks” Manon continued.
The team spent 6 days in Uganda, and each day was began at 7am and ended at 10pm.
“Since I used to work in customer service, I served as the advertiser. Took pictures and videos and posted them on social media captions so that everyone supporting us would be updated in what was happening” said Keisuke.
“We managed to hold focus groups and were able to better understand our customers – their routines, lives, habits, family situations, dreams, and challenges” said Taliey. “We met several local business owners and managed to get our prototypes out on to see what the street vendors thought”.
When asked what their personal takeaways from their trip were, this was what they shared.
“The feedback and insight we received from our target customers was so valuable. To have an opportunity to spend time with them and hear what they have to say gives us a better understanding about the status quo of the social system they were in. It was definitely worth the journey!” said Taliey
“I don’t know if it’s learning or more of a realization” began Manon. “But in Uganda, I really saw this woman struggling to responsible for her whole extended family on just $3 a day, but somehow managing to feed everybody. We also learned the limitations of design thinking. Because sometimes, the people just didn’t know what innovations were available, and needed an external person to suggest it to them. “
“It was my first trip to a developing country” shared Keisuke. “Before we left, Manon and Taliey asked me if I ever been to a developing country before, and I said no. But after going to Uganda, I’ve realized that human life should be simple. Sometimes, being developed means you have too much. Peoples’ lives over there were so simple, but they were happy.”
The Butterfly Effect- The scientific theory that a single occurrence, no matter how small, can change the course of the universe forever. – The Urban Dictionary
Experience is the best teacher. We are all molded by the little “occurrences” in our lives, and we are forever changed because of them. Manon, Taliey, and Kei are three different individuals with different nationalities, molded by their own personal experiences, are now part of each other’s lives in a common mission to help alleviate poverty in the streets of Kampala, Uganda through the Hult Prize. But through this experience, they are not alone.
Part of the educational experience that we get as students at Hult is having classmates from all around the world. We are divided into teams that are culturally and professionally diverse which can be the source of a myriad of intense emotions but also serves as the launching pad of disruptive social innovations that are already becoming reality. Under the guidance of our experienced professors, these group projects/social ventures are receiving all the help it needs to make that jump from the drawing board into becoming sustainable social enterprises that can help make this make this world a better place to live in.
It is because of this that I know, even though Musana was formed to compete for Hult Prize, I fully believe that they will still launch, whether or not they win the $1,000,000 seed funding. Because as soon- to-be-graduates of the Hult Master of Social Entrepreneurship program, how could they (or we) not?
If you would like to find out more about Hult’s global business programs, download a brochure here.