UIC team advances in $1M social business competition

Drew Nannini, Rahul Patel, Evana Robbani, and Shefali Batra

UIC student team competing in Hult Prize social entrepreneurship contest. L-R: Drew Nannini, graduate student in epidemiology; Rahul Patel, Honors College senior majoring in biological sciences; Evana Robbani, doctoral student in pharmacy; and Shefali Batra, team captain and 2013 graduate in biological sciences. Photo: Joshua Clark (click on image for larger file size)

A University of Illinois at Chicago entrepreneurial team of three students and an alumna is one step closer to $1 million in start-up funding after advancing to the regional finals of the fifth annual Hult Prize, co-sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative and the Hult Prize Foundation.

The UIC group was chosen for the social entrepreneurship competition from among 10,000 applications received from 350 colleges and universities in 150 countries.

This year’s Hult Prize is based on a challenge personally selected by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. It calls on participants to address chronic illnesses and noncommunicable diseases affecting 250 million people living in urban slums around the world.

The UIC team, whose members represent UIC’s Honors College, School of Public Health, and colleges of pharmacy and liberal arts and sciences, are developing a social health care business focused on patient education regarding obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and mental illness.

“Our project will give health care providers direct interaction with the patients in a controlled environment and on a regular basis,” says Shefali Batra, team captain and 2013 graduate in biological sciences. “Patients will be on a specified schedule, and our services will be available to them at locations convenient to their home and work.”

Batra and teammates Drew Nannini, graduate student in epidemiology; Rahul Patel, Honors College senior majoring in biological sciences; and Evana Robbani, doctoral student in pharmacy, hope their social business idea serves as a tool for  people in target populations to better understand their health issues and prevention or treatment.

“We believe that choosing between medical services and food, or a day off from work, should not be a decision anyone has to make,” Batra said. “Our model for solving this year’s social enterprise challenge aims to bring systematic change to more areas of Chicago, developed nations and underdeveloped nations.”

The Hult Prize regional competitions, which will be held March 7-8 in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, Shanghai and Sao Paulo, require teams to pitch their social business idea to an audience of company presidents and chief executive officers, physicians and academics. The UIC team will compete in San Francisco against 50 teams, such as Stanford, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Pennsylvania.

In preparation for the regional competition, the team is formalizing a business plan and project prototype. They are taking a survey of health care providers and experts in technology, federal funding and the FDA approval process.

Each regional winner will move into a summer business incubator, where the teams will receive mentoring and strategic planning as they create prototypes and set-up to launch their new social business.

A final round of competition will be hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative at its annual meeting in September, where delegates will select a winning team to receive the $1 million prize from President Clinton.

“We are giving entrepreneurs from around the world a platform to innovate and revolutionize the way we think about servicing the poor,” Ahmad Ashkar, CEO and founder of the Hult Prize, said in a statement.

The annual competition is the world’s largest student completion and crowd-sourcing platform for social good, according to the nonprofit Hult Prize Foundation.

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