Hult Prize: Augustana University Students Gear Up for Global Competition

AU sophomore Taha Afzal '21 speaks to the Hult Prize teams during a campus training session.

The goal is to come up with a business idea to help tackle global challenges that change the world. In the end, the best idea is awarded $1 million. 

While the money may seem out-of-reach to some, the Hult Prize compels around 250,000 university students across more than 120 nations to compete. Among them are a few dozen student entrepreneurs from Augustana University.

Augustana got involved in the Hult Prize for the first time last year when then-senior Hatem Khalfaoui '19 brought the competition to campus. Thanks to his leadership, sophomore computer science & data science major Taha Afzal '21 says his team learned how to convey their ideas to business leaders in the community.

“As students, we don’t really know how to pitch a business model or a business idea to people who are potential investors,” says Afzal. “It’s a global competition. Students from Augie get to present and present in front of well-known executives and companies like Facebook and Yahoo!”

While Afzal is not competing this year, Khalfaoui has passed the torch onto him. Afzal has been put in charge of organizing this year’s campus-level competition at Augustana.

"I just wanted to make sure that the students this year got the same or a better experience that we did. I just want to carry that forward," says Afzal. “I’m just interested in helping people and making things more efficient and effective and that’s, I feel, what the Hult Prize is all about – to empower other people through the use of businesses and technologies in certain ways.” 

And the word has spread. Last year, there were four teams. This year, there are at least ten – comprised of three or four members each. After receiving feedback from "coaches" or local business leaders, the students will present their ideas to a panel of five judges in early December.

“This year’s challenge is around sustainability, so they (the Hult Prize Foundation) want students like us to start businesses so that every dollar earned for the business is also helping the earth in a general sense." Afzal explains, “The competition does not require the teams to come up with something revolutionary or something new. It can also be just implementing things in a much (more) efficient or effective way. And, that’s what I’m seeing more.”

Afzal says the winning team at the campus level will compete at the regional level this spring – in San Francisco or Washington. According to the Hult Prize website, the top 50 teams from regionals will go to a six-week-long accelerator in London. Those winners will then head to the United Nations Headquarters in New York in September, where they will compete for $1 million in seed money. 

Regardless of how far the students get, Afzal says students are gaining real-world experience and the local competition helps Augustana get one step closer to providing a business incubator on campus.

“They’re (students are) looking at business in a different way – outside of the class, outside of the textbooks,” says Afzal.


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