Competing for a chance at $1 million but more importantly the desire to create a positive impact on the world, students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln pitched their business plans at the Nebraska Hult Prize Challenge November 16.
Hosted in Howard L. Hawks Hall, the annual international competition challenged young people around the world to solve youth unemployment, asking them to create a business plan with the potential to provide meaningful work for 10,000 youth within the next decade. More than 100 students, in teams of three to four members, took the challenge and pitched their plans in the first round of the global contest, showing how they could make an impact with the prize money.
Partnering with the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Husker International Business Club, Gloria Mwiseneza, a junior integrated science major from Kigali, Rwanda, was able to bring the competition to Nebraska for the first time. With assistance from a committee she put together, Mwiseneza served as the university’s Hult Prize campus director, coordinating the event. She knew with the spirit of support at the university, Nebraska would serve as a great place to host one of the Hult Prize’s campus competitions.
“Watching the competition and students pitch their ideas was a dream come true for me. Since I applied to the Hult Prize On Campus program, my hope was to empower the students at Nebraska to bring their ideas to light and for the winning idea to receive support,” she said. “I am so grateful to have been supported to make all this possible.”
No stranger to pitching a business plan in competitions such as this, Lizz Whitacre, ’17, CEO of Pawlytics, served as a judge for the challenge. A former competitor and winner of the Center for Entrepreneurship’s contests such as 3-2-1 Quick Pitch and New Venture Competition, she brought a unique perspective – providing relatable feedback students could use. A local entrepreneur with her startup Pawlytics, a data management software for animal welfare organizations that can assist in saving the lives of companion animals, Whitacre left impressed by the level of global impact each of the business plans presented would have.
“It is a very different experience judging than pitching. As a judge, on a dime I need to think through all the potential barriers and solutions that the students had a month, sometimes more, to think through and prepare. It was especially important to think through the whole picture as a judge for a competition in which the winner could potentially go on to pitch to the United Nations and change the world,” said Whitacre. “The competition attracted a lot of new business ideas and students who haven’t pitched in the past. Many of these ideas I heard were very well thought out, viable and would make positive change.”
With their ambitious goal and a feasible plan ready to implement, team Uhusiano impressed the judges, winning first place. The idea originated after Cheyenne Gerlach, a junior integrated science major from DeWitt, Nebraska, spent a summer living in Mbita, Kenya. After talking with more than 100 local farmers and community members, she saw an opportunity to make a difference. She asked Matthew Brugger, a senior applied science major from Albion, Nebraska, and Eli Wolfe, a sophomore agribusiness major from Kearney, Nebraska, to help found Uhusiano, which is Swahili for connection, and set out to change how aid money is distributed in countries the U.S. provides relief by using a data-driven, human-based design.
“From my own research, I noticed disconnect between the money and the individuals it should be reaching. The money can get lost within government, distribution, and you never really know where it will end up. What Uhusiano would do is connect these billions of dollars to people such as the ones I talked to in Kenya. Then they would actually see the impact and benefits of what that aid money could potentially be used for,” said Gerlach. “I believe social entrepreneurship is the next big thing, and all the ideas I heard today were very in touch with that.”
Winning their campus-qualifying round, Uhusiano bypassed the normal application process to enter regionals, and will compete in Boston at one of 25 regional finals in the spring. They will take the next step in competition, ultimately leading to presenting at the United Nations and the $1 million prize. Hult Prize Facebook Photo AlbumWinning teams included
:First Place – Uhusiano
First Runner-Up – Artworld
- Matthew Brugger, senior applied science major from Albion, Nebraska
- Cheyenne Gerlach, junior integrated science major from DeWitt, Nebraska
- Eli Wolfe, sophomore agribusiness major from Kearney, Nebraska
, an incubator that allows talented artisans from all over the world to sell their arts.
Second Runner-Up – PROgress
- Quincey Bernard, junior international business major from Port-au-Prince, Haiti
- Deep Patel, junior business administration major from Francistown, Botswana
- Elise Raymond, senior marketing major from Seward, Nebraska
- Caleb Sneed, senior supply chain management and analytics major from Kansas City, Missouri
, a company partnering with employers to give youth the opportunity to develop professional skills through a pathway program while being compensated.
- Matthew Jung, senior marketing major from Arcadia, California
- Kyle Kramer, sophomore economics and finance major from Lincoln, Nebraska
- Marshall McDaniel, sophomore finance major from San Antonio, Texas
- Katie Meredith, senior animal science major from Lincoln, Nebraska
- Jeffrey Owusu-Ansah, junior international business major from Lincoln, Nebraska