I had discussed my participation in the Hult Prize in a blog post last month. While we did not win the regionals in Boston a few weeks ago, I had a terrific experience with my Darden teammates and learned a lot by speaking with like-minded students from other universities. We all found the winning team’s idea particularly inspirational and one of my teammates, Chirag Jain, wrote a blog post about the same that I wanted to share below:
The Hult Prize is a collaboration of the Hult School and the Clinton Global Initiative that attracts thousands of business students across the world every year. The prize is a start-up accelerator that provides the winning team $1 million to launch a business that tackles a particular global issue.
In 2013, the competition involved developing a solution to a global hunger epidemic affection over 200 million urban poor. Teams were provided a Case Study that challenged them to provide a solution that would significantly improve food security in urban slums by 2018. From thousands of applicants, 267 teams were selected and invited to 1 of 5 regional competitions. The Darden Team (pictured below) was one of ~50 schools attending the Boston regional.
FUD HUB: Low-cost platform supporting urban agriculture (Email JainC14@darden.virginia.edu for more information)
While we are confident in the merits of our own submission (see FUD HUB), I’m writing about the winning team and an idea that commanded the applause of an auditorium of students from across the country. The question is simple.
Would you ever eat a cricket?
While the question might seem rhetorical, the stunning fact is that some 30% of the world population is conditioned to eating crickets in their normal diet. Considered a seasonal treat, crickets are available from Africa to Asia and are commonly sold in poorer neighborhoods. Is this the groundbreaking thought that might make inroads into urban poverty and hunger?
There are a couple of elements to the proposal. The 3 factor model below outlines the various stakeholders and benefits below. But before proceeding, I must recognize the winning team from McGill University for their extraordinary idea. I am confident in this team’s ability to leverage inspiration into action, and am challenged to pursue the same. Congrats to the regional finalists (here)
1. Entrepreneurial Farmers
The team proposed a proprietary farming system that could be distributed to slum residents that could allow them to harvest crickets year-round. A low cost, portable farming solution, participants would be able to consume a portion of their harvest and sell the balance back to the company. This would not only provide nutrition at the slum-level, but also an additional source of stable income.
2. Sustainable Food Source
Crickets are a high-protein food source that are an excellent supplement. Given the high cost of meat, this is often absent in a low-income diet. Furthermore, crickets are low methane emitters and are far better for the environment than cattle. They also consume less land and flora per portion of edible meat.
3. Lucrative Products
Previous attempts at commercializing crickets have failed due to the limited size of the cricket market. The business relies to 2 additional sources of revenue.
After buying back the surplus crickets from its entrepreneur network the company can pursue 3 objectives.
A. Sell the crickets as is to consumers
B. Use the cricket proteins to fortify flour. This protein enriched flour can be sold at a premium in the market and deliver better nutritional value.
C. The cricket exoskeleton is a valuable source for Chitin, a long-chain polymer with applications in industry, agriculture and medicine.
Combined, these sources of revenue make the business model sustainable and feasible. It may not solve world hunger, but its one hell of an idea.
So why did this idea win? Will it solve world hunger?
But it does represent a desire in us to unlock some secret formula for change. There were many great ideas present, but Crickets won because it dared to be different. It challenged our preconceptions and still met hte burden of proof.
Did it deserve to win?
Perhaps. Perhaps Not.
There were many ideas that didn’t win. Idea, that though dull, were the most needed. I’m not going to wave my own standard, but we chose infrastructure because infrastructure is sorely lacking. Some teams worked on micro-funding models because despite the emergence of micro-finance, funding is still lacking. Some teams developed market-making model because price visibility and stable prices are still lacking. I can’t list them all here, but these ideas are viable and beneficial. They are the simple, accessible, low-hanging fruit. The problem is that the low-hanging fruit is rarely inspiring. Its the ‘we could do that‘ in all of us that makes us belittle the simple achievements.
I really hope that the cricket idea takes off! It’ll inspire many of us to keep dreaming. However, I also hope that we will not forget the forest for the trees and miss the small steps that are required to make big ideas work.
Good luck to the 2014 Darden team and I hope you pursue a change you believe in!