If you had the opportunity to change the world, what would you do? For five UT students, the answer is quite simple – create a line of eco-friendly bamboo fiber products. The group of aspiring entrepreneurs plan to integrate bamboo into urban slums as a means of providing both sanitation and education for children, a task that has earned them recognition as Hult Prize semifinalists.
Founding team member, Bijen Patel along with the efforts of Vignesh Parameswaran, Trent Lott, Gobinath Balasubramanian and Caio Lombardi Amaral created “Bamboost,” a multi-tier startup, seven weeks ago in an attempt to bring about social change. The enterprise involves selling bamboo-fiber diaper liners and toiletry bags to families in urban slums around the world. The biodegradable liners help improve overall sanitary conditions and combat infant mortality.
“Two million children, in India alone, are dying every year just because of unsanitary conditions in slums,” Patel said. “But, we have found a way to reduce the cost of [sanitary] products by more than 75 percent.”
Last semester, Bamboost presented their business model at the Hult Prize competition and advanced to the regional finals where they will compete for a chance to win $1 million in capital to turn this proposal into a reality.
“We are really driven by the Hult Prize money,” Parameswaran said. “But by the time we finished doing our market research 100 kids have died. So, we had to figure out what we really could do for those kids.”
The Hult Prize is a startup accelerator for social entrepreneurship, which brings together college students from around the world to solve the world’s most pressing issues. This year’s theme, selected by former president, Bill Clinton, is “Early Childhood Education in the Urban Slum and Beyond.” UT was one of approximately 75 colleges and universities chosen to host a local edition of the Hult Prize, allowing the winning team to bypass the application round and go straight to the regional competition.
Faced with the task of educating 10 million children by the year 2020, the Bamboost team knew that curriculum had to be the core of their business model. In addition to combating sanitation issues, Bamboost aims to provide children under the age of six with a free educational toolkit. With every purchase of a bamboo-fiber product, families will receive complimentary bamboo-based educational toys such as books, building blocks and puzzles.
The Bamboost team, which is comprised of students from India, Brazil and Florida, wants to initially focus their efforts in Brazil and India. Amaral, a junior and international business major, will be spearheading Bamboost’s involvement in the favelas (slums) of Brazil.
“I have spent 14 years of my life in Brazil and connecting with the people of the favelas,” Amaral said. “I would love to change the quality of their lives.”
Following an upcoming regional competition March 13-14, in Boston, six finalists will spend six weeks at a summer entrepreneurial program hosted by the Hult International Business School to hone their busines
s plan and concept. A final round of competition will be held during the annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in September 2015, where the winning team will be announced and awarded the $1 million prize.
Although the Bamboost team is hopeful that they will come out on top during next month’s regional competition, the chance of rejection still lingers. However, the five students aren’t going to allow that to deter them from following through with Bamboost. On Jan. 21, the Bamboost team launched a kickstarter campaign for their educational toolkit in an effort to continue building their social enterprise.
“I think eventually if we build a successful enough business model it will fall through,” Amaral said. “Money follows passion.”
Kai Miller can be reached at email@example.com