Earlham students continue their pursuit of the Hult Prize in San Francisco and Mexico City | Earlham College
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Earlham students continue their pursuit of the Hult Prize in San Francisco and Mexico City

March 05, 2018

Two teams of Earlham College students will compete in this month’s regional finals of the Hult Prize, the world’s largest student competition for the social good. The teams will compete at events in San Francisco and Mexico City in the hopes of reaching the finals and a chance at the grand prize: $1 million in start-up capital to launch world-changing social ventures.

Both teams — Methane Hub and Mashinani Farmers Initiative — have launched social ventures on campus that have the potential of meeting the competition’s challenge of harnessing the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people.

“Our students have developed groundbreaking ideas on campus that offer real solutions to some of the biggest challenges gripping the world today,” says Gene Hambrick, the director of Earlham’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “We are proud of their innovative spirit and their growth in their preparation for this international competition against some of the best and brightest minds the world has to offer.”

Fighting Indoor Air Pollution in Haiti

Methane Hub — Josie Burton, Lan Phan, Zoya Abbas, and Ruthvin Gardiner, all members of the Class of 2020 — aims to solve indoor air pollution, which is one of the leading causes of respiratory diseases in Haiti, by providing biogas generated from human and animal waste as an alternative energy source for cooking.

“This year’s Hult Prize competition is expected to be the biggest to date so there is definitely a lot of pressure,” says Phan, a Human Development and Social Relations major from Hanoi, Vietnam. “We’ve been working on this venture for the last year and a half, and we’re really passionate about it. We’re not focused on just winning the regionals, we care about actually launching our business. This competition will offer good resources for us to continue our work.”

Methane Hub advanced to the San Francisco regional last fall after winning a quarterfinal competition on Earlham’s campus. The team also won the $20,000 grand prize during the inaugural Earlham Prize for Creative Capitalism in 2017, a campus-sponsored competition that provides a platform for students to transform their ideas into real world business plans.

To date, team members have visited Haiti three times and have begun networking with potential customers.

“From the eyes of the United States, Haiti is seen as a very hopeless country but that’s simply not true,” says Burton, a Global Management major from Fort Wayne, Ind., who founded Methane Hub in her first year on campus. “The most important thing to me when I was interacting with a lot of people is just how creative they are with finding solutions and how entrepreneurial they are. Not just with businesses, but with finding how to get water for the day. Bartering with neighbors to settle on a group meal because they are limited on funds. That spirit is everywhere and we’ve intentionally crafted Methane Hub to fit with that culture.”

Improving Agricultural Methods in Kenya

Mashinani Farmers Initiative – Daniel Kibet ’19, Eliza Vardanyan ’21, Olivia Tienin ’20 and Summia Tora ’20 – provides agricultural consulting services and access to major urban markets for small-scale farmers in rural Kenya. Having finished as a runner-up in the quarterfinal competition on campus, the team applied directly to the Hult Prize in order to compete.

“We have this problem in Kenya and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa where up to 80 percent of the population is relying on subsistence farming as their main means of generating income by selling the surplus farm products they don’t consume,” says Kibet, an Economics and Global Management major from Kenya, and the founder of the budding venture.

“These farmers often are using ineffective farming methods and experience decreased in yields. If they can’t create a surplus, they can’t generate income for themselves.

Kibet, the son of successful Kenyan farmers himself, and his team intend to reverse the fortunes of these farmers. Through three different platforms, the initiative would offer agricultural consulting services, youth training initiatives, partnerships with established road-side vendors, and resources to tap into underutilized agricultural practices, including beekeeping, as a means of harvesting new products. The goods and services produced by these farmers would be sold to Mashinani in exchange for greater access to markets in busy urban centers where their products can be sold for greater profit.

“Everybody on our team offers different perspectives,” Kibet says. “We are from different places — Kenya, Burkina Faso, Armenia and Afghanistan — but we can all relate to this huge problem, which is farming and starvation. How many pictures have you seen of people starving in Africa? Being from that continent, I want to solve that problem. I believe this is something we can work on from the grassroots level.

“We are all excited for it,” he says. “We can’t wait to present our idea.”

Earlhamites have competed in Hult Prize competitions for the last four years, often against graduate-level students representing larger universities. During the 2016 competition, Earlham’s team “Magic Bus” won the $1 million grand prize for its innovative transportation solution that was dubbed the “Uber for Buses” by former president Bill Clinton.

In partnership with the United Nations, the Hult International Business School, and Education First, this year’s Hult Prize will be awarded in September during a final competition in New York City.

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success.

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.


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