by Whitney Williams
Crickets are becoming the tofu of the food world. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the winning team from the Hult Prize or read the latest Salt Lake Tribune article about Chapul Bars. It turns out about 80% of the world eats insects for their high protein and high nutritional value.
Now, why I am telling you about crickets? I find the edible insect intriguing, but what’s more interesting is the Hult Prize and the plethora of sustainable food business ideas that were shared this month around the world. Five University of Utah teammates were fortunate enough to make it to the Hult Prize Boston regional competition – where we were going to share our social enterprise idea to combat global hunger. Sounds like a simple task, right?
Here’s how the competition worked. The Hult Prize was founded in 2009 by Ahmed Askar and his classmates at the Hult International Business School. Askar’s idea was to create the largest social enterprise case competition in the world. For those of you that don’t know, a social enterprise is the term used to define a business that operates to solve a social or environmental problem. Think Tom’s shoes or People Water. Usually organizations with such missions are not-for-profit organizations that rely primarily on donations and grants to fund their work. A social enterprise is essentially an organization that is committed to doing good, but is able to make a profit in order to continue to do good. Now, back to the competition.
Since the competition’s inception, the Hult Prize has evolved into a global case competition sponsored by the Hult family (founders of EF Student Tours and Educational Travel) and the Clinton Global Initiative. This year they had a Hult regional competition in Dubai, Shanghai, London, Boston and San Francisco. A winning team was chosen from each city who will then spend the summer developing their business idea and presenting to the Clinton Global Initiative in September — where the winning team will be awarded $1 million to start their social venture.
In my opinion, social enterprises are going to be the business model of this century. Our environment can no longer sustain our current energy, food and water consumption; we need to adapt our society, our businesses and our governments to more sustainable practices. The Hult Prize is one catalyst for this adaptation. Business students around the world spent three months, and sometimes more, thinking about how they could solve the global hunger crisis. My team came up with an idea to build micro-farm co-ops in urban slums. We would empower local farmers to grow organic food, using efficient hydroponic techniques, that they would then sell directly from the farm or to nearby food carts.
Many ideas involved hydroponics and aquaponics (the later uses fish in the water for nutrients) and all business were based in developing countries. A theme from all of the 48 teams was building community and empowering local people to create sustainable businesses. Harvard University’s idea, the runner-up for Boston, was to fortify Grade C rice with all of the recommended daily nutrients and then sell the rice is small packets from food carts in urban slums. Grade C rice is typically sold in mass quantities and used as an ingredient in other foods. Harvard’s idea would turn an underutilized and unprofitable product into a healthy food option for urban slum dwellers. The distribution would be done locally and the profits from the product would be shared with the sellers and the producers. Their team already has a pilot project in the works in the Ashaiman slum outside of Accra, Ghana.
I left the competition feeling inspired by my peers and their enthusiasm for creating a more sustainable and equitable world. I believe many of the teams will continue to develop their business ideas and create local food networks in urban slums around the world. There is no silver bullet for the global hunger crisis, but I do think we now have a lot of great minds working to create a sustainable food network.
Whitney Williams is an MBA student in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. She focuses her work on sustainability in food systems.