Haas Team Moves To Regional Finals for $1 Million Hult Prize

A Haas Team that designed mobile phone software that prompts poor mothers to educate and keep their children healthy will move on in the competition for the prestigious $1 million Hult Prize.

The 2015 Hult Prize is an international social entrepreneurship contest that focuses on a different social problem each year. President Bill Clinton at last year’s Clinton Global Initiative challenged students through the prize to build “sustainable and scalable enterprises” to improve early childhood education in urban slums.

Haas’s Team ELIUS (English Literacy in Urban Slums) designed an education plan to reach mothers with health- and education-related messages on mobile phones. The Haas team (pictured left to right) includes Sneha Sheth, Michael Young, Rupal Nayar, and Mubeen Khumawala, all first-year MBA students.

ELIUS was one of 22 teams competing at UC Berkeley — and one of five chosen to present to judges last month. Ideas ranged from empowering “mama entrepreneurs” to a platform for connecting NGOs with donors and volunteers.

The win pushes Team ELIUS to the regional finals in San Francisco March 13-15, when a total of five regional rounds will be held in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, and Shanghai. Finals are held in September.

Young says he chose his team members for their passion and depth of experience working in education and development in India and other poor urban and rural areas.

Nayar cofounded an education-focused startup in India and worked in development at Bain & Co.; Khumawala, a former math teacher, served as a student travel leader in India and helped create a literacy blueprint for the city of Houston; Sheth worked for Teach for India in the Mumbai area and as a senior consultant in international development. Young, who says he benefited from an early childhood education program as a child in Camden, N.J., has experience as a senior business analyst at Accenture and serves on the board of Lotus Bloom, an early childhood education program in Oakland.

The team started fleshing out its idea in early December, relying on its Problem Finding, Problem Solving class at Haas for guidance. The team chose a voice application, primarily, because many poor mothers are illiterate and often rely on older model Nokia phones, Young says.

According to the team’s subscription-model plan, the first round of phone messages would focus on nutrition for babies (“Three cups of milk can help build strong bones”) and, later, age-appropriate learning (“Talking to your child for 15 minutes each day can help grow vocabulary”).  Text is also an option for those who use it.

The strength of the business plan and the diversity of the team set ELIUS apart, says Rhonda Shrader, MBA 96, associate director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship at Berkeley-Haas, and a competition judge. “It was clear that the Haas team had thought about the business model more,” she said.

Zachary Zeleznick, BS 16 (bioengineering), the UC Berkeley Campus Coordinator for the Hult Prize, praised Team ELIUS’s extensive knowledge on the importance of early-childhood education and its “clear and actionable” ideas.

As the team moves forward, it will focus on customer development, advice it received from Wes Selke, a managing director at Better Ventures and a competition judge. (The team was accepted to the Better Ventures Startup School, which starts January 22.)  “I’m competitive, sure I want to win,” Young says, adding that “this is not just about winning the contest, it’s about solving a complex global problem.”