MSc students compete in Hult Prize regional finals in London

Over the weekend of March 7th - 9th, MU’s team of 5 MSc in Sustainable Development, Management and Policy students competed at the regional finals of the Hult Prize Competition in London. This year’s theme focused on the 250 million slum dwellers around the world suffering from chronic diseases who need help – a challenge personally selected by former US President Bill Clinton. 

MSc students Natalie Miletic, Nora Ron-Pedrique, Jelena Siric, Alison Koczanski and Klaus Renoldner shared their experience, from coming up with their idea for the world’s largest student competition and start-up platform for social good, to bringing it to the competition in the UK. 

‘’Our journey began this past January when our team was chosen as one of 200 regional finalists from over 10,000 applications worldwide.  We then began an intense preparation period to come up with our social enterprise solution to this year’s global challenge of addressing non-communicable diseases (NCD) in urban slums.  As we dove deeper into researching the topic, we better understood how incredibly complex this issue of NCDs is even apart from the added social, economic and political factors present in slum populations. 

To assist us on our path, Dr. Harvey Goldstein connected us again with one of Modul’s external lecturers, Dr. Paul Martin Frentz, who specializes in consulting for entrepreneurial start-ups as well as other business development.  Dr. Frentz was an integral part of helping us package our solution into a concise business plan presentation.  After several weeks of team brainstorming, we ultimately decided that such a complex issue could only truly be addressed through prevention initiatives. 

Our team’s medical expert, Klaus Renoldner said, “As prevention is the cheapest and healthiest way, it has to be the main focus of attention. Healthy diet and physical activity must be fostered on one side, smoking and harmful use of alcohol reduced on the other hand. And the satisfaction of real needs instead of wrong compensatory needs like alcohol or drugs must be fostered. All this is related to awareness for improving living conditions. Training and skills must take a central place.”

As the spread of knowledge is of utmost importance, and is best spread in a creative and playful way, especially to our target population of youth in these urban slums, our team proposed the NaNo Jak game.  NaNo Jak is a card game, making it low-cost, accessible to anyone, while still spreading knowledge regarding symptoms, risk factors and preventive activities to combat a wide range of NCDs.  The cards themselves allow for multiple levels of game-play, again focusing on making it accessible to the widest possible population. 

During the preparation for the regional finals, we not only made prototypes of multiple cards, but made connections for future partnerships with NGO run schools in our pilot location, the slums of Caracas, Venezuela.  Our team member Nora Ron-Pedrique was home in Caracas during much of our preparation time, which allowed for additional field research as well as forming these network connections. 

The weekend in London itself was comprised not only of pitching our solution to the judges, but an opportunity to meet and share ideas with a range of teams from all over the world.  Even with an identical challenge to address, the diversity of ideas and approaches were incredible to hear and learn about.  Although our team was ultimately not the one chosen to move on from this select group at the London regional finals, Jelena Siric said, “it was a wonderful experience to meet students from so many other universities and discuss these innovative solutions with them.

Based on the positive feedback we received from other competitors and Dr. Frentz coupled with the interest from our pilot project partner, as a team we hope to continue to develop the NaNo Jak game and our project. 

We would like to again thank our dean, Dr. Harvey Goldstein, Dr. Paul Frentz, and the rest of the Modul Community for their support and encouragement. ‘’

Congratulations to the NaNo Jak team on their participation!