Research News

Three Vanderbilt student teams advance to next round of ‘Nobel Prize for students’

Hult Prize coordinator Kelsey Moore (center) is flanked by team Code 4 All members Thayer Rosenberg, Andreas Guenthner, Kevin Lubin and Benjamin Rasmus. (Vanderbilt University)

On March 3, three teams from Vanderbilt will compete in an international social entrepreneurship competition dubbed “the Nobel Prize for students.” These teams will advance to the next round of competition in hopes of winning a $1 million prize in start-up funds to launch their project.

The Hult Prize, an initiative started by President Bill Clinton as part of his Clinton Global Initiative, is an annual competition that aims to spur the innovation of graduate students into finding a business solution to a critical social issue faced by millions of people. This year’s participants were challenged to create a social venture that will decrease the human cost of involuntary migration and restore the rights and dignity of individuals forced into motion due to economic, environmental and political pressures.

The Turner Family Center for Social Ventures, which is driven by graduate student leadership, works toward solving social issues through innovative market-driven forces and has hosted the Hult@Vanderbilt for the past two years.

“Something that is really special about the Hult Prize is that it’s student-led and student- created. These students create these ideas and their pitch and they do their own research. It shows the commitment to doing this kind of work can really make positive change in the world,” said Kelsey Moore, a student at the School of Nursing and campus director of the Hult competition at Vanderbilt.

“We’re very proud of the three teams advancing to the regional rounds of competition. They are representative of the kind of leaders we work to develop every day at the TFC,” said Mario Avila, director of the Turner Family Center. “We look forward to supporting the teams by sponsoring their travel and providing mentoring and development as they move on to the next rounds.”

The Hult@Vanderbilt competition, specifically for Vanderbilt students, took place on Nov. 7 at the Wond’ry, Vanderbilt’s innovation center. “The Wond’ry was so excited to host the Hult competition at Vanderbilt,” said Robert Grajweski, Evans Family Executive Director at the Wond’ry. “We were so impassioned by the energy and the excitement by the members that were running the Hult competition that we couldn’t have been more excited to host it as our first event.”

Team Code 4 All brought the idea to restore dignity to refugees through education and work. Their mission is to teach displaced people how to code and connect them to income-generating opportunities. Code 4 All includes Owen Graduate School of Management students Thayer Rosenberg, Benjamin Rasmus and Andreas Guenthner, and Graduate Program in Economic Development student Kevin Lubin.

Team HydroSafe leverages idle passenger vessels to safely transport refugees while also providing badly needed health, language and legal services on board. HydroSafe members include Owen students Kayla Armgardt and Tori Samples and Vanderbilt Law School students Yalda Godusi and Nat Robinson.

Team Blue Sky aims to mitigate the environmental pressures addressed in the prompt by marketing a service that converts environmentally harmful CO2 into a stable material, which can be destined for use in thousands of durable commercial and consumer goods. This team consists of law students John Davidson and Taber Hunt, School of Engineering graduate student Anna Douglas, and Owen student Jessica Osaki.

After winning the Hult@Vanderbilt competition, Team Code 4 All will attend the regional competition in Boston. Advancing through the online open round, Team HydroSafe will go to Dubai and the third team to London. The students hope to prepare as teams by hearing from former refugees, meeting with professionals in fields dealing with their projects, and refining their pitches before moving on to the finals. Both the Turner Family Center and the Wond’ry are sponsoring the three teams by helping with travel expenses, mentoring them, conducting project pitch workshops and providing corporate business guidance for the next month to help the teams prepare for the next round.

by Amenah Anthony-Hunter