Published: November 25, 2014

Finding a way to increase early childhood education in an urban slum only took seven weeks for 10 UT teams who competed in the Tampa edition of the Hult Prize. They plan to make social change using bamboo.

While their plans aren’t foolproof, the winner of the Nov. 21 round will have four more months to iron out the details as the group members prepare for the regional finals March 13–14, 2015, in Boston, one of six global locations where regional finals are being held.

The Hult Prize, in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), is a startup accelerator for social entrepreneurship, which brings together college and university students from around the globe to solve the world’s most pressing issues. This year’s theme, selected by President Bill Clinton, is Early Childhood Education in the Urban Slum and Beyond. UT was one of approximately 75 colleges and universities chosen to host a local edition of the Hult Prize, allowing the winning team to bypass the application round and go straight to regional competition.

“We prepared a rather comprehensive presentation, but it was tough,” said Manivasagam Thangadurai MBA ’15, a member of the winning team.

Thangadurai grew up in England where he was quite familiar with the notoriety of the Hult Prize. When he heard that UT was hosting a local edition, he joined efforts with his friend, Bijen Patel ’16, and quickly recruited three others: Vignesh Parameswaran MBA ’15, Trent Lott ’15 and Caio Lombardi Amaral ’16.

The group’s startup, BamBoost, proposes a multi-tier approach. They sell bamboo-fiber cloth diaper liners and toilet bags to families in urban slums. The liners help improve the sanitary conditions in the slums, which improves overall health, including infant mortality, Thangadurai said.

Bamboo was chosen for its renewable nature, its sustainability and the fact that it’s economical to obtain and cultivate. With the purchase of the bamboo-fiber products, the families would receive free bamboo-based educational toys, such as building blocks, puzzles and felt puppets, along with a curriculum and instructions for their use.

“The traditional teacher-centric approach has a lot of challenges,” said Vignesh Parameswaran MBA ’15. “We live in the world where online shopping and Internet searching has become more personalized than education. We all have different skills, abilities and capabilities. It is time for personalized curriculum.”

The team, which includes students from India, Brazil, United Kingdom and Plant City, FL, wants to initially focus efforts on Brazil and India.

“I hope to lead and grow BamBoost in the favelas of Brazil,” said Caio Lombardi Amaral ’16, an international business and entrepreneurship major. “I have spent 14 years of my life in Brazil and connect with the people of the favelas. I would love to change the quality of their lives.”

The six regional finalists will spend the summer at the Hult Prize Accelerator, a six-week program of intensive entrepreneurial seminars hosted by Hult International Business School, to hone their business concept and proposal. A final round of competition will be held during the CGI annual meeting in September 2015, where the winning team will be awarded the $1 million prize.

“Being a part of BamBoost makes me look at academia in a different way,” Amaral said. “It makes me ask the questions, ‘Why am I here?’ ‘Why am I studying this subject?’ and ‘How can I impact the lives of as many people as possible by learning this?’"

At a time when final exams are looming and demanding personal schedules of team members — some who already run their own businesses — made coordinating efforts in developing their startup a challenge. But team BamBoost made this project a priority.

“It wasn’t easy, but we believed in the idea, believe it to be a force for good and will prove it to be a boon to society,” Thangadurai said.

Have a story idea? Contact Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer 
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