Four of our Hatchery Ideate Alumni took their innovative ideas on solar power to the world stage. They pitched to world tech leaders for the regional finals of the Hult Prize, which looks for the best sustainable solutions to world’s most critical challenges. Recently returned from San Francisco, Michael Djunaidi (Business), Dhruv Saggar (Law/Arts and Social Sciences), LuAnna Han (Law/Arts and Social Sciences) and Tamim Rahimi (Law/Arts and Social Sciences) told us their story.

First steps

If it were not for Hult Prize at UTS, and The Hatchery, we would not have had the chance to meet Ahmad Ashkar, founder and CEO of the Hult Prize Foundation – let us explain.

It all started when we all signed up to be part of Hatchery Ideate. We were all premature eggs that wanted to learn more about entrepreneurship, innovation and the startup space. Luckily, we special eggs were accepted into the award-winning program and met each other after being drawn to the same problem space.

From here, the incubation process started, and we learnt about new concepts, such as ‘social entrepreneurship’ and ‘human-centred design thinking’. We learnt that not only did problems lead to a more complicated network of other problems, but, that at the core of these problems, were people. We also realised the importance of aligning a product or service to serve a target market and the different ways that we could prototype and engage in lean piloting.

Like all mother hens, Hatchery Ideate guided us through the methods of entrepreneurship, providing us with the mindset and skills necessary to create change and start our own business. More importantly, we learnt how to take risks and embrace the entrepreneurship and innovation scene with Einstein’s wise words as our north star: “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.”

Into the wide world

It was only natural that after our incubation, we would want to apply the methodology we learnt in the real world. That is when our fellow Hatchling and Hult Prize Campus Director, Lik, introduced us to the international competition that crowdsources ideas for social enterprises and provides the overall winning team with US$1 million in seed capital.

Initially, we were all hesitant as we were not STEM students and we were uncertain if we could design a social enterprise that harnessed the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people by 2025. However, Hatchery Ideate had taught us that these preconceived barriers were mostly self-imposed, just like how a baby chick might see the fence of their pen.

With our skills in design thinking, lean startup, prototyping and pitching, we created our first venture, Solarity – a social enterprise that leases solar panel kits to Ghanaian businesses to combat the endemic blackouts that locals call the ‘Dumsor’.

Did you know, that across Ghana, only 10% of SMEs can afford backup energy during the Dumsor, which are mainly diesel generators that are expensive, high maintenance, and dirty? We, therefore, thought to ourselves, how might we make clean energy more accessible to such businesses? This is the problem space Solarity addresses. Specifically, it will leverage the solar energy available as Ghana resides in the second most favourable geographical location for absorbing such energy in the world.

Innovating overseas

Much to our surprise, our venture won UTS’s first-ever on-campus Hult Prize event, which guaranteed our team a golden ticket to compete at the regional finals in San Francisco against world leading universities, including Brown University, Cornell University, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Yale University.

In the months leading up, we worked closely with James Tilbury (Operations Director at EnergyLab), were mentored by Harrison Uffindell (Head of Business Operations in Australia and New Zealand at Airbnb) and attended workshops held by Parrys Raines (CEO at Future Business Generation) and Martin Hollander of the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship. We would like to thank each of them for investing their time and efforts in helping us refine our pitch and deck of slides and learn more about ideation, funding, branding and pitching.

We would also like to extend a thank you to UTS’s Deputy Vice Chancellor’s Office of International and Advancement for sponsoring our journey to impact in San Francisco. Without such support, we would not have been able to pitch in front of judges, such as directors from Google, and connect with Ahmad Ashkar, founder and CEO of the Hult Prize Foundation. While we were unsuccessful in directly qualifying for the next stage of the competition, we were highly encouraged by our judging panel to apply for 1 of 10 wildcard positions – something we are currently considering.

Nonetheless, a wise person once said it is the journey, not the destination that matters and our journey from the Hatchery to the Hult Prize has reminded us of exactly that. This entire experience has been incredibly rewarding through all the inspiring connections we have made and networks we have joined, and it most definitely is not the last you will see of us in this space!

Hatchery Ideate is a program for UTS students and staff who are passionate about learning the foundational skills for entrepreneurship. To hear more from the UTS Hatchery, sign up to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @UTSHatchery.