MBA student group to compete for million-dollar Hult Prize

From left to right: John Griffith ’13 MSCS, Dan Dugal ’12 MBA, Veronika Koubova ’13 MBA, John Seeli ’13 MBA, and Yan Liang ’13 MSIE.

February 28, 2013

By Kelsey Budd ’13

A team of five Bradley students is heading to San Francisco this week to compete for the Hult Prize, a social entrepreneurship case challenge that is inviting students from around the world to create a sustainable enterprise to reduce food insecurity in urban slums.

The student team – consisting of Veronika Koubova ’13 MBA, John Griffith ’13 MSCS, John Seeli ’13 MBA, Yan Liang ’13 MSIE and Dan Dugal ’12 MBA – will be accompanied by their faculty coach, Dr. Larry Weinzimmer, Caterpillar Inc. Professor of Strategic Management.

Each year, the Hult competition lays out the criteria student teams base their business plans around. This year students were tasked with creating a for-profit, social business plan aimed at providing nutritious and affordable food to urban slums.

The Bradley graduate students began working on the project in October 2012 and learned in January they were accepted in the competition. Dugal said the team faced two distinct challenges in devising their business plan.

“First, we have to create a complete, for-profit business that can work in the real world,” he said. “That's hard enough, but we have to do it for places that we are not very familiar with, to benefit people who live in very difficult conditions – with little or no public infrastructure like roads, electricity, plumbing or access to clean water.”

On top of that, Dugal said, the team needs to convince a panel of judges that their proposed solution is better than the other 45 business plans they will see in San Francisco.

“We are up against some of the best universities in the world, but we know that Bradley has prepared us to compete against the best, and win,” he said.

While investigating the problem, the team noted how residents of urban slums rely on purchasing cheap, convenient food to save what money they can for other essentials. The team also noted how the crushing poverty caused many residents to lose hope and spend precious resources on entertainment or alcohol instead of food.

The development of their plan required the team to do extraordinary amounts of research. Dugal said it was important to analyze past successes and failures other organizations experienced while tackling the same problem. Along with their research, the graduate students were required to apply what they have learned in class to the project.

“It’s an exciting challenge because we are pulling information from every class we have taken, and trying to tie it all together in one project to produce a whole business that works end to end,” Dugal said.

There are six regional rounds for the Hult Prize, a global contest that hosts teams from universities looking to win the million-dollar seed capital to launch their new start-up ventures. More than 10,000 universities apply to compete for the prize each year and a very limited number are accepted.

In the past, Bradley has had success at other case competitions, placing first for three consecutive years followed by back-to-back second place performances. Eyeing a greater challenge, the university has decided to compete at an international level this year.

Dr. Weinzimmer said this competition is a great opportunity for the team to compete head-to-head with other universities in the world.

“Bradley is making an effort to create an institute of national distinction, and this is one of the ways we will do that,” he said.