Meeting 40 tech entrepreneurs at The Hult Prize 2018

On Thursday 16 August 2018, the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator and Mobile For Development Utilities teams were invited outside London by the Hult Prize Accelerator Programme to lead a workshop on ‘How start-ups can best build partnerships with mobile operators’ and to be part of the jury for the programme’s weekly pitch competition a few days later. The Hult Prize convenes some of the brightest college and university students across the globe and equips them with tools to accelerate their ‘for-purpose, for-profit’ tech companies. As we usually do, we thought we’d share our insights from both days.

What is the Hult Prize?

Each year, The Hult Prize invests $1 million in one student enterprise. Over the last decade they have invested $50 million in the for-good, for-profit student start-up space. This year over 150,000 students in more than 100 countries responded to the Hult Global Challenge under the theme, ‘Harnessing the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people’. Through regional and local competition rounds, 40 of the top teams were selected to compete in the Hult Global Accelerator in the UK.

During the six weeks programme, the 40 tech entrepreneurs were provided with a curated curriculum of workshops (ranging from team dynamics, to value proposition and market positioning to sales and marketing and partnerships), speaking events, coaching sessions and network building opportunities to help launch and scale their start-ups.

Volta Irrigation team pitching

How start-ups can best build partnerships with mobile operators

Leveraging insights from our Building Synergies report and Opening Doors guide, our team ran a session with the 40 tech entrepreneurs on the topic, ‘How start-ups can best build partnerships with mobile operators’. We focused on the ‘haves’ and ‘needs’ that both mobile operators and start-ups can bring to a mutually beneficial collaboration. For many entrepreneurs, they had only recently learned about how integrating mobile technology (such as USSD, API integration, IVR, SMS, data) could play a fundamental role in their business proposition.

We then shared some insights and lessons from the GSMA’s Mobile for Development Utilities programme, narrowing down to the theme of this year’s challenge (harnessing the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people).

By using examples of the Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund portfolio start-ups, we were able to bring to life the importance of presenting the ‘value add’ a start-up can bring to a mobile operator. Most of the questions raised during the session by the tech entrepreneurs focused on the following topics:

  • How to integrate mobile money within your service as a start-up;
  • How to approach and engage with local mobile operators; and
  • How to leverage local tech hubs.


Answers to most of these points can actually be found in some of our recently published insights, all available on our dedicated page.

Friday means pitch day!

On Friday, 24 August, we were one of the four judges tasked with arbitrating 20 start-ups that pitched at ‘Hult Prize’s Pitch Friday’, a weekly competition for the start-ups in Hult Prize’s accelerator programme. The weekly pitching sessions are designed to decide which start-up will qualify for the Global Finals at the opening United Nations Global Goals week, in New York, where teams will present for $1 million in seed capital.

Some of the pitches we really liked included the following start-ups:

  • ENPOV – (operating in Ethiopia) is a USSD-based application that connects rural farmers with on-demand transportation (to markets, schools etc);
  • PDX – (operating in Pakistan) is a platform that connects micro donors to the population in some of the poorest rural areas in Pakistan;
  • Rhea (operating in Egypt) – is an eco-routing mobile application, which helps users commute from A to B in a way that reduces their carbon footprint; and
    Impact Rays (operating in Nigeria) – has built a solar-powered irrigation kit for smallholder farmers.


The four judges on Friday pitch day

We would like to end this blog by thanking the Hult team for hosting us and inviting us to be part of this stimulating accelerator programme.

The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.

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