Graduate student team selected for exclusive Hult Prize competition

Jan 15, 2016

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From left to right: Beedie School of Business graduate students Vladimir Baydin, Mahad Farrukh, Ahmed Sallaam and Grace Potma.

From left to right: Beedie School of Business graduate students Vladimir Baydin, Mahad Farrukh, Ahmed Sallaam and Grace Potma.

A team of Beedie School of Business graduate students has qualified from a field of over 25,000 applicants for the prestigious Hult Prize, the largest student competition in the world.

The annual competition aims to create and launch the most compelling social business ideas – start-up enterprises that tackle grave issues faced by billions of people. The winning team receives USD one million in seed capital, as well as mentorship and advice from the international business community.

Open to universities, colleges and students on every continent, the Hult Prize has grown to become the world’s largest student movement for social good, and has been named as one of the top five ideas changing the world by President Bill Clinton and TIME Magazine.

The Beedie team will now compete at the San Francisco regional round, one of five global regional rounds of the competition. Held from March 11 to 12, the regional round will task the students with demonstrating an idea for sustainable, scalable and fast-growing social enterprises that double the income of 10 million people residing in crowded urban spaces by better connecting people, goods, services, and capital.

The team boasts a diverse ethnic background, with each member possessing personal experience in challenging social circumstances. MBA student Vladimir Baydin grew up in post-soviet Russia, where working as a consultant he helped to launch several innovative start-ups, including the largest Russian equity-based crowd-funding platform. Fellow team-member Grace Potma, also an MBA student, previously studied health care in Zambia, where she witnessed medical emergencies where staff lacked sufficient equipment or medication to properly treat critically injured patients.

“When choosing the composition of the team it was vital that all team members shared the same personal passion to complement their professional skills, as we would eventually become business partners if we progressed in the competition,” says Potma. “The support from the Beedie School of Business has been instrumental in our success in the competition. Our coach, Stephanie Bertels, really helped bring our application to life, and we are very grateful to the faculty and staff for their assistance.”

The team also included MSc Finance student Mahad Farrukh, who grew up in Pakistan without reliable electricity and dealt regularly with corruption and severe income disparity, and Syrian-born Palestinian refugee Ahmed Sallaam, an MBA student who previously worked with the UNHCR to help Iraqi refugees in slums and refugee camps, and with Syrian internally displaced people in shelters before being forced to flee Syria.

“The strength of the team’s application lay in the unique perspective offered by the individual members,” says Farrukh. “Ahmed and I have a background where we have experienced these problems first hand, Vladimir has a unique expertise in technological advancements and experience in small companies and venture capital, while Grace has been phenomenal in connecting all of our strengths together. The sum of the parts of the team is very much greater than what we could bring individually.”

Coached by Beedie Associate Professor Stephanie Bertels, the team’s application focused on their backgrounds and comprehensive business experience dealing with corruption and income disparities in varied cultural contexts.

“In working with the team on their application, what resonated for me – and I suspect also for the judges – was that each of these team members has had first-hand experience living in or working to help improve impoverished contexts,” says Bertels. “That on-the-ground knowledge brings credibility to their claim that they can develop a scalable way to improve the lives of people living in crowded urban spaces.”

Should the Beedie team emerge victorious from San Francisco as one of six regional finalists they will attend the Hult Prize Accelerator, a six-week program of intensive entrepreneurial seminars hosted by Hult International Business School in Boston.

The competition is run by the Hult Prize Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to launching the world’s next wave of social entrepreneurs.

For more information on the Hult Prize, visit