The year began with an exciting announcement – three of the Hult@ Vanderbilt teams were accepted into the Hult Prize Regional Finals – in Boston, London, and Dubai. More than 50,000 teams submitted their ideas and applications worldwide from over 100 countries. Three Vanderbilt teams will represent at three out of the five global regional finals.

The Hult Prize is an international case competition that brings students from across the globe to form teams and develop, propose, and pitch solutions a pressing global issue. The winning team receives $1 million to invest in their enterprise.

When the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures hosted the Hult@ Vanderbilt competition in November 2016, 39 students entered in ten teams, each presenting their own solution to the global refugee crisis by “building sustainable, scalable start-up enterprises which restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2022”. The winning team automatically advanced to the Regional Finals and selected Boston as their destination, and additional two teams were selected by Hult when they submitted applications through the open round (see Vanderbilt Law School feature story here).

Perspective from Kathleen McKissack, TFC Advisory Board Member & Hult Finalist 2015

As our three teams prepare to pitch their ideas on an international platform, Kathleen McKissack (M.Ed. ’15), TFC advisory board member, founding student leader and Peabody alumna, reflected on her experience with the Hult Prize competition in 2015, and the evolution of Vanderbilt’s Hult Prize engagement through the Turner Family Center.

“My first reaction was excitement! So many schools have a long-standing history of being successful in the Hult competition. The first Vanderbilt teams in 2014 and ours in 2015 spent time convincing people on [Vanderbilt’s] campus that Hult is an important competition globally. To know that it is now something that everyone knows about and to have three teams competing demonstrates that Vanderbilt is gaining prominence in this space, and that Hult organizers acknowledge it. It’s very exciting to see that Vanderbilt is gaining a reputation as a school that can be thought leaders in this space [of social enterprise].”

Vanderbilt Hult Prize Regional Finalist Teams:

Competing in Boston (Winning Hult@ Vanderbilt team): Andreas Guentner (MBA ’18), Kevin Lubin (GPED ’18), Ben Rasmus (MBA ’18), Thayer Rosenberg (MBA ’18)

Competing in Dubai: Kayla Armgardt (MBA ’18), Yalda Godusi (JD ’18), Nat Robinson (JD ’18), Tori Samples (MBA ’18)

Competing in London: John Davidson (JD ‘18), Anna Douglas (PhD. ’18), Tabor Hunt (JD ’17) Jessica Osaki (MBA ’17), Brooke Tuttle (MBA ‘17)

Hult@ Vanderbilt competition, November 2016

Vanderbilt’s representation at the 2017 Hult Regional Finals is not only an exciting experience for the students, but also a milestone for the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures and its’ leadership. Since 2014, Vanderbilt has had interdisciplinary graduate student teams compete in the Hult Prize Regional Finals. Teams have competed in Boston in 2014, San Francisco in 2015, and last year’s two teams competed in San Francisco and Boston. Last year marked an important milestone, in which the TFC hosted the first ever Hult@ Vanderbilt competition, the campus level competition that allows the finalists to automatically enter the Regionals round. This competition is student-led and was directed by Student Campus Hult Director and TFC Programming Board Member, Kelsey Moore (School of Nursing, FNP ’17).

Reflection on the Hult Prize’s value for students and future leaders

Kathleen’s team addressed the 2015 Hult Prize challenge of creating early childhood education opportunities in urban slums and beyond. Her interdisciplinary team included Owen MBA students Ellen Page (MBA ’15), Jake Hill (MBA ’15) and Matt Inbusch (MBA ’16), and Peabody students, Alyssa Van Camp (M.Ed. ’13) and Kathleen McKissack (M.Ed. ’15).

2015 Vanderbilt Hult Prize team (front from left): Ellen Page, Alyssa Van Camp, Kathleen McKissack; (back from left): Matthew Inbusch, Jake Hill.

Kathleen described the value of participation in the Hult Prize as “an interesting learning experience for me… the way that Hult presents their challenges – they try to get you think outside of the box, and think scale, but without giving you meaningful metrics”. With an interdisciplinary team, topic, and solution, there are “so many dimensions to what they are asking you to solve, and the discipline you come from determines which one you optimize… The beauty of the interdisciplinary collaboration is that we all had to fight for our side… [That process of] articulating and having to convince others — enhances your own understanding of its value”. She described the challenge of balancing priorities of human-centered design and business viability as critically important for the success of her team.

Advice for the Hult Finalists

Kathleen shared advice with the teams traveling to Hult Regional Finals. She imparted both motivational and tactical advice to teams, encouraging finalists to “make sure that their solution in holistic” and to enjoy the experience. “In addition to the pitch itself, you’ll be entering a space where there are 50 other teams – make the most of getting to know those people. See them as competitors, but also as future leaders in social enterprise.”

Turner Family Center for Social Ventures
Kathleen McKissack (M.Ed. ’15)

On the more practical side, Kathleen shared, “You know that you are going to get certain questions about your solutions, so have an appendix prepared in your deck. In additional to getting to pitch yourself, you start to learn about what you did right and what made you different as you see others present.”

Like our 2017 Vanderbilt teams are doing as they prepare for Regionals, Kathleen’s team creatively researched, and creatively fundraised to support their efforts. They engaged in field research and took what she called “an aggressive approach”, with travel to Mexico City, Cape Town, South Africa, Mumbai, India, and Zambia to test their solution. “We were one of the only teams that went into the field – to get feedback from the people our solution would impact”.

Perspective on Hult as a TFC tradition

To Kathleen, the Hult Prize represents “in practice what we want the Turner Family Center to be like. The TFC has this overall practice of equipping our future leaders from all backgrounds to be successful in this space, to do well and to do good… To be a connector and a convener for these opportunities and to make great things happen.”

Like she did in the 2015 Hult Prize competition, Kathleen devotes her advisory board leadership to ensure that the TFC continues to be “a great preparer” for students, encouraging them to “take advantage of as many opportunities as you can – and be part of creating them with the TFC”.