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Aston MBAs Use Diversity To Reach Finals Of Social Enterprise Start-Up Competition

A team of Aston Business School MBAs has reached the region finals of social enterprise start-up competition The Hult Prize. They think diversity will give them the edge over their competition.

Wed Jan 22 2014

TIBA is a fitting team name for a group of Aston Business School MBAs, who have advanced to the regional finals of the Hult Prize – the world’s largest student competition and start-up platform for social good.

It is a Swahili word that means cure or health – and in numerology, means energy and ambition. It represents the team’s ambitious plan: to compete against other top business schools for a chance to secure $1 million in start-up funding to launch a sustainable social venture.

It also represents the Aston MBAs’ bid to improve the health of 250 million slum dwellers around the world suffering from chronic diseases that need help.

It is a key focus of the 2014 Hult Prize, in partnership with former US President Bill Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative, designed to act as a catalyst for social ventures that aim to solve the planet’s most pressing challenges.

Team TIBA is made up of an international crop of MBA students from Aston: Adiba Ali (India), Daniel Sira (Venezuela), Janet Bolo (Kenya), Omowumi Akinmoladun (Nigeria) and Esmer Chifiero (Nigeria). 

They saw off competition from more than 10,000 other applications that Hult Prize received from over 350 colleges and universities in over 150 countries.

Following the regional finals, one winning team from each host city will move into a summer business incubator, where participants will receive mentorship, advisory and strategic planning to launch their new social business. 

For team TIBA, their international background is what will set them apart from their competitors. “All of us have first-hand experience in an international environment and that was a competitive advantage that we made shine through our application,” says Adiba, who left a career with Goldman Sachs to begin an MBA at Aston.

“We also have different experiences that we think we can use to come up with a strategy – and that gives us an advantage,” added team-member Janet Bolo.

Esmer, whom previously worked as a consultant for the Malaria Eradiation Network in Nigeria, agrees. “Having the experience of being in those areas, and then discussing the problem, we’ll be able to speak with passion and people will see it shining through us,” she said.

“We all have a shared path and vision, and we really want to positively give back to our community.”

Esmer also worked for the United Nations Development Programme, which helps nations withstand crisis and drive and sustain growth that improves quality of life.

The UNDP works in over 170 countries and territories, fielding over 7,000 volunteers to help reduce poverty and create sustainable development. The team hope to leverage Esmer’s experience.

A final round of competition will be hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative at its annual meeting in September, where CGI delegates will select a winning team. The winners team will be awarded the prize by Bill Clinton himself. 

The TIBA team think more MBAs should be involved in social enterprise. “We have to look at business in a commercial way, but also in a socially responsible way, which is something not always taught at business schools,” said Daniel.

Janet, who aspires to be a social entrepreneur in Africa, added: “More and more MBAs should be involved in social enterprise. There’s a need for us to address the situation and we can apply what we’ve learnt [on the MBA] and use the knowledge to solve social problems.”

The 2014 Hult Prize’s challenge is to build sustainable and scalable social enterprises to address non-communicable disease in slums. Almost 100 million people fall into poverty every single year because of medical payments, and the Aston team are passionate about the subject.

“We’re refining our ideas. Our target market is South America, Asia and Africa, and we will be reaching out to our networks in those regions,” added Adiba.

Competition is tough, but MBA staff at Aston have been helpful. Esmer said that they have provided the team with guidance - and even offered to pay for transport and accommodation for the London regional finals.

Social enterprise is a career path that some of the team hope to follow after graduation. “I think this is a good experience for us to find out what social enterprise really is, and in reality this project has shifted our minds in how to approach business,” said Daniel. “It’s not just a commercial focus now, but a way to contribute to society.”

“It’s not just about the competition or winning $1 million. They are just incentives,” added Adiba. “I’m sure if we believe in our plan then we’d like to do it even after we complete our MBAs.”

Former President Clinton said: “The Hult Prize is a wonderful example of the creative cooperation needed to build a world with shared opportunity, shared responsibility, and shared prosperity. Each year I look forward to seeing the many outstanding ideas the competition produces.”

Brigitte Nicoulaud, Aston’s MBA Director, said: “We are very proud of Adiba, Daniel, Janet, Esmer and Wumi. They are a testimony to the enthusiasm and passion that Aston MBA students have for change and for making a difference. They are true ambassadors for the school and a real inspiration to others."

The Hult Prize regional competitions will take place on March 7 and 8, 2014 – in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, Shanghai and Sao Paulo. Aston Business School will compete in London.

TIBA is keen to hear from individuals/organisations close to this subject - building a social healthcare enterprise that serves the needs of 25 million slum dwellers suffering from chronic diseases by 2019. We would encourage people to reach out to us at with any thoughts/comments.