August 18, 2019 | 83° F

Rutgers teams head to Hult Competition regionals

Photo by Melissa Diep |

One million dollars to change the world seems like an unattainable dream for some people, but 12 different people from Rutgers will soon have the opportunity to compete for just that.

Two different Rutgers teams will compete in the Hult Competition’s regional finals, said Melissa Diep, a Rutgers Business School senior. She formed and leads Change Booths, a collaborative project aimed at bringing Internet access to urban communities with a limited ability to go online.

Change Booths will be competing in San Francisco in March.

The Hult Competition is dedicated to providing teams with world-changing ideas the opportunity to apply them, according to their website. Teams can compete in regional finals in one of five cities or online, and the winners of those events will eventually have the opportunity to compete in the global final in September.

“We’re all working on the project in order to try to bridge the digital divide in many underserved areas,” Diep said. “A main goal of ours is to work very closely with communities where the world’s poorest reside, in order to connect this population to the global economy and all of its benefits.”

More than 60 percent of the world’s population cannot use the Internet at present, said Aishwarya Sharma, a Rutgers Business School senior. Free Internet access will help these communities by letting users check workplace and education websites.

The main advantage Change Booths has over other teams is their idea brings technology to the communities they want to help by building it, rather than asking people to use their own devices, Diep said.

“There’ll be free Internet access points in urban areas,” Sharma said.

Diep, who is leading the team, said she originally thought of Change Booths while competing at the Google Community Leaders Program case competition. Her team of four beat about 100 other competitors to win that contest.

Since then, her team has grown to include students from three different Rutgers schools, an alumnus and a partner from outside the University. They applied to the regional finals and beat nearly 25,000 other candidates when they earned a place in the San Francisco competition.

Along with Sharma, Diep’s team includes Mandev Singh, Raghav Bhardwaj and Rigved Tummala from the School of Engineering, Jacqueline Chen from the School of Arts and Sciences, University alumni David Karivalis and Nick Sahler.

Her ability to organize this team and gain entry into the regional finals is part of what makes the team effective, said Brendan Kaplan, a University alumnus and director of the New Brunswick Office of Innovation.

“Part of being a savvy businesswoman is not necessarily knowing how to do everything, but knowing how to bring different people together,” he said. “She has done all of that.”

Kaplan’s office provided funding for Change Booths because they have a legitimate chance at the competition, he said. Teams like Diep’s showcase New Brunswick as a location for innovation, which may invite large companies like Google to establish a presence in the area.

Like the University of California, Irvine, the University of Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Duke University, Rutgers will be sending two different teams to two different regional finals.

Urban Seed, composed of Rutgers Business School seniors Daniel Reji and David Shah, School of Arts and Sciences senior Chisanim Egbelu and alumnus Myles Jackson, will be attending the Boston contest, having won first place at a local Hult competition, Shah said.

“We don’t have the name recognition as Harvard but I think that makes our students even hungrier for success,” Kaplan said. “The fact that the Hult competition is such an exclusive team of people is really impressive. It demonstrates Jersey roots, global reach.”

Umair Masood, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, organized the contest at Rutgers and is an official representative from the Hult Organization.

“Basically I was selected to host this competition here at Rutgers, and the winner of the competition would have a direct advantage compared to teams that applied online,” he said.

The judges at the event were told to base their evaluations on the actual criteria used by the Hult Competition, he said.

The winners, Urban Seed, showed a realistically sustainable idea in terms of business models, he said. They were not given the opportunity to plan before the contest.

“We were able to surpass the 25,000-(person) applicant pool since we won first place, so we’re moving into the regional finals without having to go through the application process,” Shah said.

Urban Seed will tackle the problem of global food waste, he said. They want to change how food gets from one location to another and how it is stored to ensure not only its longevity but also that the people who need it will be able to eat it.

“The issue’s not really food shortage or that food’s in the wrong hands, just that there is waste because the process is imperfect or not complete,” he said. “We found a way to make the process more efficient, to get the food where it needs to be.”

Both teams are now getting ready for their respective regional contests.

Developing a physical product from the idea is the next goal, Sharma said.

“Definitely (the contest) has a high caliber of students competing but we think we’ll do well,” Sharma said. “I think the strength that the San Francisco team has is (we are) diverse in our backgrounds, and I think that will contribute. We’re really just excited.”

Part of the contest rules state teams must fund their own way to the regional finals. Change Booths is hosting a GoFundMe to help raise their capital for travel costs.

Nikhilesh De

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