In just one month we’ll be in Dubai, pitching an innovative social start-up idea to an executive jury, as a regional finalist team in the Hult Prize Competition (the development challenge set by former President Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative). We’re incredibly excited to be part of a competition that has been named “the Nobel Prize for students” by Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate, . But we’re also especially proud of doing this as part of the University of Cambridge, which is represented by a record five teams this year, who will compete in London, Dubai, San Francisco and Shanghai respectively.

We know that this great result is no coincidence; the strong collaborative ethos of the Cambridge MBA has been upheld since the very beginning of the process and played a key part in this success. Here’s how we approached the competition… as Cantabrigians!

Selecting the competition

Even before the MBA programme began, we reached out to Cambridge Judge Business School alumni to enquire about their experiences with various competitions. We were motivated by their stories and subsequently began researching the most interesting ones and making selections based on passions and skills. The Hult Prize in particular struck a chord as one of the most meaningful and practical competitions around.

Building a team

One of the most delicate aspects of the process was forming the teams; not an easy task given the varied pool of talent at Cambridge Judge Business School. We organised several gatherings in order to facilitate a communal mode of selection. We wanted to build a diverse team, with professional experience across multiple sectors and a passion for education, the issue at the heart of this year’s Hult Prize. Being at the heart of the University of Cambridge also enabled us to fortuitously cross-paths with Song Yu, a PhD student focusing her doctoral research on the importance of early childhood education in cognition, emotional and intellectual development. Teaming up with Song was perhaps one of our best decisions so far.

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Once teams were formed, we received advice and support from class mates, professors and alumni. We collaborated with other teams at the university and shared resources to facilitate all applications to the challenge. We have always viewed the competition as an opportunity to work together towards a challenging goal that has the potential to deliver real world impact.


Finding an idea

At the final round of the Hult Prize the winning social enterprise will be rewarded with USD1 million in seed capital. We have been working hard to identify a scalable business idea that can bring education to the fingertips of 10 million children in urban slums. Inspired by best practices in idea generation, such as the IDEO Design thinking approach, we started by putting ourselves in the shoes of final users, identifying their needs and motivations. In doing this, not only did we leverage our personal experience of the topic, but were also able to tap into the rich network of peers and professors at the University of Cambridge. The intensive brainstorming sessions we held, perhaps the most fun part of the process, led us to generate of a number of ideas.

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Moving forward

Our next steps will involve structuring the proposal and exposing it to our peers and mentors, in the hope that criticism—and potential adaptation—will make it stronger. Being in Cambridge, the so-called ‘Silicon Fen’, we naturally benefit from the ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship that, if properly exploited, will enable our ideas to thrive.

Good luck to all the five Cambridge Hult Prize teams and may the best one win!

By Carolina Serra, Daniel Fernandes, Houssein El-Sayed and Mugheer Dirwish —  Cambridge MBA Class of 2014/15.

Find out more about the annual Hult Prize

Find out more about the Cambridge MBA