Social Justice Startups
Brandeis hosted the Hult Prize Competition
Though the official definition for refugee — “a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution” — encompasses 65 million people, the Hult Prize organization believes there are effectively many more.
In fact, including those under threat of relocation because of environmental factors, those displaced by political, social or economic crises and those living in illegal or informal settlements, the number is closer to a billion refugees.
Saturday morning, groups of students gathered in the Heller School for Social Policy and Management to share their business solutions for the refugee crisis.
They acted as part of the Hult Prize@ Brandeis, a competition dedicated to social justice entrepreneurship. The winner of the Brandeis competition will have the opportunity to compete in the regional Hult Prize competition in Boston. The Boston regional winner will compete against winners from San Francisco, São Paulo, London, Dubai and Shanghai.
This is the first year the Hult Prize has come Brandeis. Emily Nolan and Lena Muntemba, two of the campus organizers, discussed the competition in an email interview with the Justice. They explained, “A second-year Heller student who applied to compete in the Hult Prize last year applied to bring the competition to Brandeis’ campus. We were approved to hold a campus competition called Hult Prize@, and an organizing team of about 10 Heller students pulled together the competition in about 6 weeks.”
Bringing the Hult Prize to Brandeis was very important for both Nolan and Muntemba. “As students at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, we undoubtedly believe that there’s a pressing need for start-ups geared towards social justice. A large part of our drive to bring the Hult Prize to Brandeis is the fact that it’s a business case competition with the specific mission to address the world’s most pressing issues,” they said.
The topic for the challenge this year was very fitting concerning recent events.
The 2017 Challenge — Reawakening Human Potential — challenged participants to build sustainable startup enterprises that will restore the rights and dignities of refugees. 10 teams competed in the Brandeis competition. Carole Carlson, the director of the Heller MBA program, stressed that the competition was less about winners and losers than about exposing the individuals competing to other ideas, so that even if their idea for this competition didn’t end up being successful, their next idea might come forward and change the world.
Carlson also stressed that if students have an idea, they should start in her office first.
Nolan and Muntemba saw the competition as an important step for Brandeis in terms of social justice and entrepreneurship.
“It is very important for Brandeis to offer platforms for entrepreneurship. As the Hult Prize@ Brandeis organizers, it was easy for us to find on-campus partners for this event because I think that many people and centers at Brandeis acknowledge this,” they said. “We had support from the Hassenfeld Family Innovation Center, the Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship at IBS, the MBA program at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, the Hiatt Career Center, the Heller Career Center and Heller Admissions, as well as student working groups including Net Impact’s Heller chapter and the Heller Consulting Group.”
Teams competing offered ideas ranging from refugee-owned mutual funds to organic pickling companies. Many utilized online platforms and apps to gain access to a broader network of resources.
The winning team was Gray Collar Virtual Job Training. The team “uses virtual reality to teach mid-range skills for electrical work, plumbing, car repair and more,” Nolan and Muntemba explained. “Either through videos that anyone can access on their mobile devices, or by using installations that combine virtual reality with real world objects, Gray Collar trains refugees across the world to help them acclimate into communities where these skills are always needed.
The judges felt that Gray Collar’s mission is both feasible and successful in restoring dignity to refugees of varying backgrounds.”
As part of their prize, the winning team had been given a spot in the Hassenfeld Center’s Lean Launchpad Program, three mentoring sessions and placement into the Spark program finalist pitches.
Already, Nolan and Mutemba are looking forward to next year’s competition. “We’re excited to see what next year’s issue is. In the meantime, we’re even more excited to support the team representing Brandeis at the Hult regional competition in Boston this spring!”