Two teams of students who competed in the ESU Hult Prize competition have advanced on to semifinals, where they will present their ideas and compete for a place in the finals and the chance for a $1 million prize. 

The Hult Prize is the largest international student competition for social entrepreneurship, according to

For the 2018 challenge, students were tasked with using “the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people.”

Ifeanyi Martin Okonkwo, graduate business administration management and information systems major, Carissa McAfee, junior marketing management major, and Farhan Sadique, senior marketing management major, make up the group who received first place in the local competition. 

They will compete in March in Boston, Massachusetts.

Their project is called Suntime, which is solar energy harnessed through backpacks. 

“It’s basically centered in providing energy, especially light, to people who can’t afford a safe form of energy,” Okonkwo said.

They wanted their project to be easily accessible for people in developing countries and they incorporated existing solar energy ideas so that it would be possible and sustainable, the group said. 

“It’s a product that a lot of people could use because there is so much walking transportation, so many outdoor resources,” McAfee said. “It’s not something that’s going to be super out of the way or super heavy.”

When they found their final idea, it came after multiple long nights and failed projects.

“We had this nervous breakdown (that night), it wasn’t like screaming at each other, we were all dancing,” McAfee said. “We had gotten to this point where we were at a stalemate, like ‘oh my gosh what are we going to do, it’s almost here,’ and then we found this idea and there was this energy bubble and we just took it and ran with it.”

They found out last semester, after competing, whether they would be advancing into regionals or not. 

“As they announced our name, I’m pretty sure I had my hand behind my back, I clutched Martin’s hand really tight and he told me to calm down,” Sadique said. “My face was stone cold but my hand was crushing his.”

The team who took second place in ESU’s competition includes Saandhyarag Sasidhar, junior marketing information systems major, Warrick Rodgers, senior computer science and psychology major, Emilia Flores, junior chemistry major with an emphasis in medical technology, and Mohammad Daouk, senior computer science major. 

Their semifinals competition is also in March, but will be held in Mexico City,        Mexico.

The idea for their project was based around solar energy as well, but planned on utilizing the empty desert regions in Africa and Europe to power developing countries. 

“The basic concept was to try and get the world off of coal and fossil fuel dependency on electricity and move towards renewable energy,” Rodgers said.

They wanted to work with developing countries because they have a higher need for renewable energy, Sasidhar said.

Amir Ammar, Hult prize campus director, attributes the success of Emporia’s competition and the two teams to President Allison Garrett, the Office of International Education, Ed Bashaw, dean of the business school and Cory Falldine, associate vice president for information technology.

“They believed in this idea, that it will succeed,” Ammar said.

The trip for the first place team to attend the Boston semifinals is paid for by the university. 

However, because they didn’t originally plan on a second team reaching semifinals, the second place team is lacking funding. 

For the students on the second place team to compete, it will be approximately $2,000. 

Ammar and the team are attempting to gather the funds in order for them to attend the competition.

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