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With $1 million at stake, UT students take on urban slums

A student team has earned the University of Tampa the distinction of being the only university in the United States to secure a spot in the final round of competition for the 2015 Hult Prize. Up for grabs: $1 million in seed funding to the winning team.

The Hult Prize Foundation is a nonprofit that focuses its efforts on solving world issues through challenging young, social and eco-conscious entrepreneurs to come up with innovative ideas.  The challenge, this year, was to develop an idea that would meet the goal of educating 10 million children in urban slums by 2020.

UT’s student team, Athollo, joined other competitors from across the globe, including another team from UT, to address the issue of early childhood education – or lack thereof - in urban slums. The team aims to use mobile phones as the key component in providing top quality early childhood education to children from the ages of 0-6 who are living in the urban slums of developing nations.

Inspired by the educational theme, the team name derives from the Greek god of wisdom, Athena, combined with the Greek god of knowledge, Apollo. Founder and Chief Visionary Officer Phil Michaels explains that the team’s mission is to ”endeavor to alleviate the inaccessibility of education around the world.”

Athollo won first place in the San Francisco regional competition, one of six Hult Prize regional locations around the world. Along with the other regional winners, the team will attend a 6-week accelerator over the summer. In September, the teams will then head to NYC to present in front of President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual meeting.

One team will be named winner, and earn $1M in seed capital funding.

If Athollo wins the Hult Prize competition, Michaels says, the team will “funnel the seed capital funding into providing salaries for their employees, developing an app, subsidizing marketing efforts and other operating expenses.”

“Tampa is the next wave of social entrepreneurs!” says Michaels, who also serves as the UT campus director for the Hult Prize. “I never doubted the ability of our university’s young social entrepreneurs to address this pressing challenge intelligently and thoughtfully.”

Athollo is comprised of six enterprising UT students:
  • Michaels, a dual degree-seeking student (MBA in Entrepreneurship and MS in Marketing) at UT and self-described serial entrepreneur.
  • Chief Social Capital Marketing Officer Sercan Topcu is an MS (Marketing) student at UT. Chief Education Officer Brittany Brescia is a dual-degree seeking student in Education and English at UT.
  • CFO Ulixes Hawili is an honors student at UT pursuing a dual degree in Mathematics and Economics.
  • COO Ravi Goldberg is an honors student at UT who is majoring in Entrepreneurship and minoring in Leadership and Business Analytics.
  • Akingbolahan Akinwumi, Chief Cultural Officer, M.D. is pursuing an MBA.
A second UT team, BamBoost, came in second at the Boston regional competition, but they aren’t out of the running for the $1 million yet.

This year, any participating teams can compete for a wild card spot in the final competition by earning the most money in an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. To date, BamBoost has earned about 60 percent of their goal of $20,000. Click here to learn more or to donate to their crowd-funding campaign.

Athollo is also seeking donations via crowdfunding website GoFundMe; the team hopes to raise $53,000 to implement a pilot study in sub-Saharan Africa. Click here to learn more or to donate to their crowd-funding campaign

“I am incredibly proud of the hard work that both teams have put into their efforts to educate impoverished children in urban slums that need it most,” Michaels says. “It is a humbling experience to watch them grow into the business pioneers they were destined to become while changing the lives of millions of people in the process.”

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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