Last month, a panel of judges chose a team to represent Duke in the Hult Prize regionals, a leading collegiate social entrepreneurship competition. From the five semifinalists in the Duke round, there were several promising teams, and the judges encouraged other teams to apply independently.
Now that the wild card finalists have been announced by the Hult Prize, two more Duke semifinalist teams will be representing the university, as well.
This year, the Hult challenge asked, “Can we build sustainable, scalable social enterprises that restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2022?”
Here are the two wild card finalists:
Sawiana Enterprises is the brainchild of three first-year students who met at the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative’s I&E Fest.
Sawiana Enterprises will create a mobile app that can connect refugees in refugee camps by skill, by interest or by needs. For example, if someone wants to learn how to cook, the user can match up with someone who can teach this skill. Similarly, two users who are already skilled at cooking could match and start a business together.
The app is meant to tap into micro-economies that already exist within the refugee camps.
“The idea was that if you can start creating this social capacity and have the confidence to connect to people you don’t know inside the refugee camp setting, then that bleeds over after you get resettled in another country – you have that same level of confidence and that same skillset,” said Saheel Chodavadia, an economics and global health major. “You’ve developed a skillset through the app that you can use to find a job in your new county or to have enough confidence to get integrated into your society more quickly.”
The members of the team bring different skills to the table – Chodavadia has experience working with refugees who have resettled in Durham, while Sherry Feng, an economics and computer science major, has a background in entrepreneurship and knew she wanted to pursue it more at Duke. Jason Wang, a mechanical engineering and computer science major, rounds out the team with his app development experience.
Chodavadia said the team’s acceptance as a Hult Prize wild card pick was “reinvigorating,” and although the team hopes to take home the ultimate $1 million Hult Prize to jumpstart their app, they plan to continue work on the project regardless of the competition’s outcome.
“I think the environment we get at Duke really fosters and enables people to work together in teams and find people of diverse skillsets who are passionate and motivated to collaborate,” Feng said.
Luke Farrell, Julie Williams, Sanjeev Dasgupta and Trenton Bricken take questions as they present REconomy at the Hult Prize@Duke finals. Photo by Katherine Black
REconomy is a team made up of two students who have experience working with refugees and two who have technical skills.
They’re building an app with a goal of integrating resettled refugees into economies more quickly while leveling the economic playing field.
“The purpose of REconomy is to connect hyperlocal economies over our online application platform and through that more quickly integrate refugees into local economies that are currently dependent on existing relationships and partnerships within the communities,” said sophomore Luke Farrell.
Through the platform, sellers can pay an advertising fee to post their goods or services online with a price, location and a way for buyers to contact them.
Transactions within slums or refugee settlements often happen on an informal basis, added first-year Trenton Bricken.
“We hope that REconomy does a fantastic job formalizing the refugee economy,” he said.
Farrell became interested in the refugee crisis because he was inspired by his friend, fellow sophomore Julie Williams, who spent time in Jordan last year working with refugees.
When the Hult Prize challenge was announced, Farrell said, “We thought it was the perfect opportunity to combine our skills and figure out how to make an impact.”
Williams brought in another friend who was involved in refugee studies and assistance, junior Sanjeev Dasgupta. Dasgupta is continuing his refugee work abroad this semester, but remains in communication with his team via Skype.
Farrell also brought in fellow computer science major Bricken.
“When we all four first met, I knew it was going to be a great experience because we all meshed really well,” Farrell said.
The team is working on building their app, as well as brainstorming methods to get local populations to buy in to the app. Their goal is to make the app an integral part of participating in the economy because it puts refugees on equal footing with local sellers.
There are two major target populations for REconomy, Farrell said. The goal is to make enough revenue in urban slum economies to be able to offer the app for free to those in refugee camps.
The REconomy team has found support at Duke, especially from the Kenan Institute for Ethics, which has offered to fund the team’s trip to Boston. A Kenan group traveling to Jordan will test the app there to provide feedback before the next round of competition.