‘Roshni Rides’ wins $1 million Hult Prize for project to help South Asian refugees

Rutgers Business School students won the $1 million Hult Prize for social entrepreneurship last month, capping off 11 months of entrepreneurial effort with a polished, convincing pitch about the ability of its rickshaw transportation business to improve the lives of refugees overseas. The team made history with its win at the Hult regionals, becoming the first team from Rutgers to become a finalist in the competition – widely regarded as the Nobel Prize for student. The five finalists beat out 50,000 participants from more than 100 countries.

Senior Gia Farooqi, new graduates Hasan Usmani and Moneeb Mian, and alumna Hanaa Lakhani created the Roshni Rides startup as a way of answering the 2017 Hult Prize Challenge of developing a business capable of restoring the dignity of one million refugees by 2022. The company uses a pre-loaded transaction card, encourages ride-sharing and existing rickshaw drivers.

On a stage at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, the young executives of six start-up companies made their final, feverish bids to win the coveted Hult Prize. Each had formed and launched business ideas over the last year that would try to solve this year’s Hult Prize challenge – improving the well-being of at least one million refugees over the next five years.

The six finalists rose to the stage from a pool of 50,000 applicants. The judges are an illustrious bunch, including Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer, Earth Day Network president Kathleen Rogers and KIVA president Premal Shah. They decided who wins a big blue megaphone-shaped trophy — and a million dollars in startup capital. The money comes from the Hult family, whose patriarch, Bertil Hult, founded EF Education First. The Hult Prize was formerly associated with the Clinton Global Initiative. The Initiative has ended its annual conference, so the U.N. hosted the Hult Prize for the first time this year and plans to host again next year.

Their ability to persuasively pitch the idea to the Hult judges enabled them to beat out finalist teams from five other schools: Harvard University’s Kennedy School, the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, the University of Waterloo, the University of Calgary and York University.

Former President Bill Clinton, who announced the winning team, said that along with optimizing rickshaws to provide reliable transportation for refugees, Roshni Rides modeled their card transaction system after the New York City subway’s MetroCard. The team’s business idea, he said, advocates ride-sharing, keeping prices down – and fixed. “It will have a big impact,” he said.

The Rutgers team will use the prize money to continue to build Roshni Rides and explore the possibility of using rickshaws powered by electricity rather than natural gas. Listen to the team’s winning pitch at the Hult Prize Final.

Alok Baveja, a supply chain professor who advised the team, said “the Hult Prize honor is an unequivocal recognition of this team’s undying conviction that great ideas have an elegance in their simplicity, achieve scalable societal good and make good business sense, all at once.”

“True to their name, these young Rutgers entrepreneurs are bringing the light (Roshni) of new hope and optimism to millions of displaced refugees globally through an accessible, affordable and reliable rickshaw transportation system,” Baveja said.

From the start, the theme of the Hult Prize Challenge inspired and motivated the team, all of whom are Americans of Pakistani ancestry. “We are the sons and daughters of immigrants and refugees,” Farooqi said after the team won the regional competition in March. “This is very personal for us.”


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