They call it the “Nobel Prize for students” and going by the names and prestige involved with the annual Hult Challenge Prize, one would have to agree. Started in 2010, the prize from the Hult International Business School (named after Swedish entrepreneur Bertil Hult, the B-school has campuses in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai) is awarded to a team of college students who come up with unique business solutions for a pressing global problem.

Like every year, 2017’s topic — “Refugees: Reawakening Human Potential” was also issued by former US president Bill Clinton, who is a key member of the selection panel.

The prize has several stages — local and regional competitions; followed by the Hult Prize Accelerator (six teams attend an intensive six-week programme at the Hult International Business School in July and August); the global finals, which are hosted by Clinton in New York in September and where one team gets a seed capital of US one million dollars to implement their plan via a start-up. The winning team is mentored thereafter by experts for the implementation stage.

It is in this milieu that the all-women “Team Visionaries” comprising four students from the International Management Institute, New Delhi, will head to Boston for one of the regional rounds (conducted simultaneously in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, Shanghai and online) on 4 March. The team members — 23 year olds, Ayushi Srivastava, Bhanushee Malhotra and Anisha Rajput and 26-year-old Priyesha Modi — shared their excitement at getting a chance to showcase their plan in Boston and talked on how the competition would help their start up, SharanAtithi. Excerpts from an interview:

Do elaborate on the selection process for the regional final. Initially, a real life problem concerning the globe was posed by the Hult Challenge Prize 2017.

We were asked to propose a social business plan to improve the conditions of refugees, who are taking shelter in different countries. We had to explain the entire business plan by answering questions posted by the Hult team. Through our primary research, we did justify the questions by providing rational and feasible solutions to the critical problem. Among a pool of over 50,000 applicants, our application was shortlisted for the regional finals to be conducted at the Hult International Business School, Boston.

How have you tackled the chosen topic, “Refugees: Reawakening Human Potential”?

We interacted with the refugees residing in different areas of Delhi and tried to understand the issues concerning them. On talking to them, we came to know that the major issue that they face in any country, where they take shelter, is the communication barrier. They are unable to converse in the local or regional language of their country of residence. This exponentially increases their hardships. Our aim was clear — to eliminate the problem from its grassroots level. Hence, we ensured proper understanding of the local language by the refugees. Providing them social upliftment and instilling a sense of belonging in them towards the shelter country has been our motto. We tried to culturally integrate them with the native citizens of the country and make them feel at home.

What makes your entry different from the rest?

We didn’t consider it as merely a competition. Rather, it was our passion that drove us — to actually propose a business solution, which can improve the current living conditions of refugees. We began at the grassroots level in order to probe the core reason behind the plight of refugees — the problems they are facing, the circumstances that led to their pathetic condition, their emotional connect with their native country et al. Based on the information collected, we devised a plan to address this real life social cause and began a start up called SharanAtithi.

How supportive have your teachers been?

Right from the beginning, our faculty members have been our backbone; be it mentoring about the process, providing guidance on initiating research or completing the administrative formalities. They supported us throughout the entire journey and encouraged us to participate at the international level. In times of difficulty, the entire IMI fraternity motivated us.

How will participating at the regional final in Boston help your future endeavours?

The Hult Challenge Prize is a great platform that encourages young minds to think beyond the horizon and cater to a social cause. It motivates budding entrepreneurs to propose a business solution, which addresses a real life problem and start an organisation of their own. Moreover, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity would provide us valuable exposure, which will surely widen our thinking horizon. Competing at the international level with teams from the Harvard Business School, Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and many others would enable us to learn about their thought processes and business design.

Exchange of ideas at such a broad level would provide a foundation for our startup, SharanAtithi in the near future.