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MBAs Compete To Solve Global Food Crisis (And Win $1 Million Dollars!)

The annual Hult Challenge brings us some of the brightest ideas for solving the global food crisis, from vending machines in Chinese slums to getting more fresh food to markets!

By  Ifeatu Nnaobi

Mon Mar 18 2013

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The world produces enough food to feed everyone, however more than one third of the food generated for human consumption is lost or wasted.
Hunger is one of the world’s most solvable challenges and the Hult Prize challenges business school students to come up with a solution. 
With prize money of of US$1 million to launch a new social enterprise, students were asked to determine the best way to access and distribute food to those without the means to get it themselves. 
Each year the Hult Prize asks business students to tackle global problems ranging from energy to housing to education. The theme for this year was personally selected by President Bill Clinton, who has supported the Challenge since 2009.
The challenge was to create a scalable business model that generates sustainable profits to solve the global food challenge. Solutions can focus on distribution, manufacturing, production, technology and many other things!  
The Hult Prize regional finals were held simultaneously in Boston, San Francisco, Dubai, Shanghai and London on 9th and 10th March. We caught up with some of the students to find out about their ideas, and the lessons they learned from this gruelling competition!

Copenhagen Business School

The team: Jack Langworthy, an American who worked with farmer's cooperatives and supply chain management in Tanzania for three years; Rahul Shah, an Indian software engineer with years of experience in international business; Chiara Ercole, an Italian who works for her family-owned international Italian food business; Pantelis Colakis, from Greece, and with a background in entrepreneurship and finance on Wall Street; Faisal Alamro, a Saudi Arabian who is a telecommunications expert.
The business idea:  To link rural farmer cooperatives to the markets in the slum. The supply chain for food in East Africa is inefficient and 40% of food rots.The focus is on farmer cooperatives because they are already organized and tend to have far greater harvest production than independent farmers. The second aspect of the business is to sell healthier food in the slums via a community kitchen run by women.
To assist with the availability of the food, the business would also offer a delivery system based on the Indian Dabawal system of food delivery. 
Lessons learned from the competition: Rahul said, “The biggest lesson we took was from seeing the excitement and passion that sustainable businesses, with a top priority of improving lives rather than profits alone, generated amongst business schools across the world. It made us hopeful. The business idea is out there for anyone to implement, but we're focusing on our studies until September.”

IE Business School

The team: Nillakshi Pararasasegaran, born in Germany, to a family that emigrated from Sri Lanka; Alexandre Goossens, a Belgian who earned a Masters in Bioengineering with a specialization in land planning; US national David Kiefner  who worked in management consulting and also spent significant time in Latin America; Siddharth Dixit from India who recently persuaded the Indian government to fund a US$2  million vulture preservation initiative; Italian national Stefano di Bartolo who has experience in distribution and supply of pharmaceutical products in Africa.
The business idea: The idea developed by the team was a cooking centre that would employ slum dweller women as cookers, that would be expanded to a chain of cooking centres in activities with slums.
The idea is based on the fact that women in slums take more responsiblity than men. They manage money and the family but are most of the time under the domination of their husbands.
At the cooking centre, the women can also benefit from education programmes that help them become more financially independent. The food sold at the centres would be priced cheaply and can also be packaged for delivery throughout the cities. This will provide another stream of revenue while the delivery service would employ young adults from the slums.
Lessons learned from the competition: Alexandre said, “The biggest lesson we took out from this competition is to realize that there is a growing number of young business men and women from every corner of the world who are willing to act pro-actively on global issues. While the business world is generally synonymous with maximizing financial profit, the new generation is nevertheless turning towards other forms of profit, such as social profit.”

Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)

The team: Peter Ting, Jessica Zhuang, Cedric Zhao, Kraus Fan and Tina Sun. Peter is Chinese-Canadian and worked as an IT distributor before joining the MBA programme. He lived in Thailand and saw kids suffer from malnutrition and hunger. Jessica worked with an NGO and then as a journalist. She also used to volunteer in poor parts of China. Kraus worked in sales and thought the Challenge was a great opportunity to raise awareness for a social cause.
The business idea: Use vending machines to redistribute food that would otherwise be put to waste by restaurants and supermarkets. The vending machines will be operated through an information platform that is connected to food suppliers and consumers. The platform allows suppliers to enter what food they have to give away and the system detects where that food is needed, making sure to first sell off food that will expire soon. The platform will also track consumer demand and behaviour to make sure nothing is wasted.
The food that is to be repackaged will contain bread, vegetables, fruit and milk and will be sold for $1. These are cheap items but the packaging inadvertently teaches people how to eat well. The scheme will create jobs for people who will re-package the food and operate the vending machines. 
Lessons learned from the competition: Peter said, “Sometimes a very simple idea can be successful. Business models should be more practical and not focused on being theoretically sophisticated. Presentation skills are crucial. You may have a great idea but you can’t secure funding if you’re unable to communicate it clearly. The competition was a good chance to learn how people in different parts of the world like to communicate.” 

Imperial College Business School

The team:  Traci Wai, Canadian, was raised in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. She studied Health Sciences at undergrad, has a Masters in French Literature and previously worked in banking.
Natasha Baranowski is from the UK, received a First Class Undergraduate degree in History and has founded two start-ups. She previously ran global marketing campaign for an international charity.
Mo’men Sinokrot has a a BSc Honours degree in Agricultural Engineering with Marketing and Management and has worked for a large food distributor in the UK where he was directly involved in the enhancement of food quality processes. He has also helped grow his family business in food production back in his native country, Palestine.
Gonzalo Ramirez Troxler is originally from Chile but completed his MSc in Mechanical Engineering in the Netherlands. As a Research Engineer at a leading firm he authored a patent for solar cell manufacturing.
All of the team are currently pursuing Imperial's MSc in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Management.
The business idea: Increase the output of milk to raise consumption by slum dwellers, women and children. "Increasing the output of milk and creating distribution channels... to respond to the demand for affordable milk in slums without going through several middlemen is the core of our business concept”, said Traci. 
During their research, they found that slum dwellers were more likely to spend their money on less nutritious food and that their diets lacked protein.  The advantage of increasing protein intake through milk is that it is accepted in all cultures - and therefore needs no introduction. More importantly, it contains nine of the essential amino acids required by the human body along with other vitamins and minerals. While increasing the intake of milk would improve the health of all slum dwellers, children and women woulbenefit most. There is a strong correlation between the health of a woman in her early years and the health of her children.
Lessons learned at the competition: Traci said, “I think we left the Hult event with three big lessons. First, the presentation you give, your pitch, how you market yourself is everything because you are not necessarily being judged by experts on the specific topic. You therefore need to be convincing and strategic in doing so because a good idea is nothing if you cannot generate the type of interest and curiosity that is going to keep the judges listening to you from start to end. A bad idea can sell if it is advertised properly!”
“Secondly, we learned that we could not be afraid to scrap a business idea at any point of its development – including three days before the deadline! While it meant that we were in for a massive amount of research, work and arguing at the very last minute, it was worth it because we believed that we had a better idea.”
“Finally, with regards to business models, we left the challenge understanding that key to a business’ success it its distribution system, a mechanism that will see its product reach its target market. Without this in place, there is no demand and no return.”