About one year ago a team of students from KIC InnoEnergy were pondering the possibility of competing in a World Business Case Contest presenting a project aimed at boosting the use of solar power in Africa. They were Engineers and although all their likely rivals came from Business Schools they thought they had the edge to become winners: they knew about energy, they were trained in business and entrepreneurship. What could go wrong?
A World Wide Contest looking for Global Good.
A partnership between Hult Business School and the Clinton Global Initiative, the Global Case Challenge (Hult Prize in its 2013 edition), is a yearly business case contest with the goal of bringing together the top college and university students from all over the globe to generate solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. In the words of Dr. Stephen Hodges, President of Hult,“ by reaching beyond the traditional realms of business, we hope to engage the best international talent to develop social enterprise solutions to the world’s most intractable problems.”
Teams of 4-5 students are charged with developing ideas for social enterprises which vary from one year to another and in 2012 devised solutions to provide affordable education, affordable housing and affordable energy to millions of people. Non profit organizations consider it to be a major crowd sourcing platform as the event takes advantage of the fact that more and more students are expecting to make a positive impact on the world.
The contest is structured in five global regional rounds of competition held in Boston, San Francisco, London, Shanghai and Dubai. In this phase students of 130 countries compete for the different regional crowns.
The Engineers who beat top business schools in their own field
“Passionate about making a difference” and “working very hard in their spare time on their extracurricular activities” that is how Viktoria Martin, then the Director of their Master Programme, remembers the team composed of Vincenzo Capogna (spokesman), 24, Energy Engineer, Francesco Fuso Nerini, 24, Environmental Engineer; and the Mechanical Engineers Eduardo Maria Appleyard (captain), 30; Eric Bowler, 26 and Oisin Tummon, 24.
The idea they had to develop was proposed by the NGO SolarAid and, in the words of Vincenzo, spokesman of the team, was” to eradicate kerosene in Africa by the end of the decade. Our aim is to launch a pilot project in Kenya, where the market is ripe for solar lighting. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, the barriers of mass adoption of this technology must be brought down. The greatest of these barriers is access to finance.”
The answer to that challenge according to this group of students: creating a Solar Lamp very easy to manufacture and with a low price in order to enable the potential buyer to buy it via a microcredit which would repay itself from the money not spent on buying kerosene.
An idea that could be worth the US $1 million given by the Clinton Global Initiative to implement the best project. After a fierce competition, our group of students did not win the regional crown in the London round. But the door of the online competition was still open and this was the key for them to get into the finals in New York.
Their business idea took them to the New York Public Library in the presence of former US President Bill Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus to pitch and also global business leaders like Michael Treschow, Chairman of Unilever, and personalities from American Politics like Mario Cuomo. The outcome would not be first but it was not so bad to be second in a competition in which over 5000+ teams had applied to the contest.
From a Contest to a Professional Career in Sustainability
Now that their KIC InnoEnergy Masters is over, they are now pursuing professional careers in sustainable energy: Eduardo was so engaged in the project that he is now in Kenya working for the NGO which inspired the SolarAid project developing new business models for SunnyMoney, the credit and payment mechanism associated to the Solar Lamp.
Vincenzo travels occasionally to Sub-Saharian countries as a business developer from a Portuguese company which specialises in solar cells and new technologies for solar farming.
Eric has returned to the company that allowed him to take the Masters and now he is working in the sustainability initiatives area.
Oisin now works as power market analyst studying the effect of intermittent renewable sources on power markets.
Francesco is now working at the Energy Systems Department of one of KIC InnoEnergy’s partner universities.