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Winning Hult Prize team at UMass to travel to semi-finals of competition in March

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

The winning team of the Hult Prize competition at the University of Massachusetts will compete at the semi-final level of the competition in San Francisco this March.

The Hult Prize is an entrepreneurial competition focused around socially beneficial business ideas, with each year’s competition focusing around a major issue. This year’s challenge is to create an enterprise that would “restore the rights and dignity” of 10 million refugees by 2022.

The winning team’s idea was called Slate, and would serve primarily as a “social, professional network” for refugees, according to team member Penelope Martin, a sophomore economics and finance major.

“Our plan is to get those refugees and connect them to the outside world, where there’s a plethora of companies and corporations looking for their skills,” said Martin. “We’re kind of like LinkedIn in the sense that we’re matching people with different job opportunities, but we also provide a social network for refugees.”

Martin said refugees would be able to use the website to communicate with each other about their experiences and form unique online networks.

If Slate wins the overall Hult Prize competition, they will be awarded with $1,000,000 in start-up funding to pursue the implementation of their design.

Kyle Pandiscio, another member of the design team and a marketing major, said the target camp for the project is the Zaatari refugee camp in north Jordan, where there is some access to internet and wi-fi.

“At Zaatari, 83 percent of refugees actually have access to the internet,” said Pandiscio, who is a sophomore studying marketing.

Liam Reilly, a sophomore marketing major, said that he and the other group-members were a successful team because of their close friendship.

“We worked as a good sounding board for each other,” he said.

Reilly added that he thought the competition felt more competitive this year than last, when the group also participated. While the competition last year featured twelve teams, half of them were required to participate for a Residential Academic Program the three were in.

This year, there were ten teams participating, all of whom were doing so voluntarily.

“All of the ideas were fully thought-through and definitely good ideas,” said Reilly. “I think it was definitely more competitive this year than last year.”

The three said that a goal for Slate before the next level of the competition in March would be to have a website prepared.

Reilly said he wanted to prepare a prototype which is currently in development, while Martin said it was important to form partnerships with organizations that had worked with refugees before.

“We plan on reaching out to many people and building a sustainable and accurate network,” she said.

Pandiscio mentioned that some of the judges at the preliminary level had worked with refugees around the world and offered the team to speak with them to gain further insight with them.

Reilly also said that the name came from the idea of a “clean slate.”

“When you’re a refugee, you lose your job, your house, your neighbors and all that,” he said. “Our mantra at this point is also to erase the stigma.”

Martin said that while this process is new to all of them, they are looking forward to developing the project going into the March competition.

Stuart Foster can be reached at stuartfoster@umass.edu or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster.

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