On March 4, Team EPOCH from the University of Waterloo won the London Regional Finals of the Hult Prize, beating out sixty-one other teams from universities around the world (including MIT, Cambridge, the London School of Economics, and many more). The Hult Prize, backed by the Clinton Global Initiative, is the world’s largest social entrepreneurship competition. Every year it challenges student teams to build scalable startups to address the world’s biggest problems. EPOCH is one of five regional finals winners, selected from a total of 2000 teams from universities all over the world. They have earned a two-month stay in the Hult Prize accelerator and the chance to pitch for $1M in seed funding at the finals in September.
This year’s Hult Prize challenge, selected by President Bill Clinton, focused on building social enterprises to restore the rights and dignities of 10 million refugees by 2022. Team EPOCH, composed of Science and Business student Lisa Tran, Accounting and Financial Management student Jade Choy, and Masters of Accounting alumnus Keith Choy, developed a mobile application designed to bring together refugees and community members through the exchange of skills, talents, and services.
“As a team, we have seen firsthand the challenges that newcomers face in Canada,” says Lisa. “Our solution gives access to community support and gives newcomers a way to contribute as well.”
Through the app, users can earn and redeem time credits to give and receive help according to their abilities and resources.
EPOCH’s value proposition is rooted in the strength of community, and so, too is the venture itself, which has developed within the supportive community of Waterloo. EPOCH’s journey began at the Hult Prize @ UWaterloo campus qualifier in November, led by Professor Nada Basir of the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre, Campus Director Pragya Dawadi, and sponsored by the Eyton Directorship of the Conrad Centre. Forty UWaterloo teams from all faculties tackled the challenge, and EPOCH won first place to advance to the Regional Finals.
In the three months since, they have poured their time into completing market validation and developing their idea, under the mentorship of their faculty advisor, Nada Basir, and many other supporters at the Conrad Centre and UWaterloo’s School of Accounting and Finance. They moved into the Velocity Garage and hired first-year engineering student Ryan Schmied through the Conrad Centre’s Bridging Entrepreneurs to Students (BETS) program which connects entrepreneurial co-op students with early stage startups for project-based micro placements. During this time, EPOCH established partnerships with twelve public and private organizations worldwide who are interested in using EPOCH after implementation, and their unique solution garnered the attention of local media.
“The EPOCH story so far has been Waterloo at its very best,” says Mark Weber, Eyton Director of the Conrad Centre. “Students from different faculties came together in an interdisciplinary way to solve a real and important problem with the support of faculty members, peers, and the entrepreneurship support system of the university. Successes like EPOCH are possible when talent and purpose meet opportunity and support.”
At the regional finals on Saturday, EPOCH pitched for a panel of expert judges including the Head of Livelihoods Unit from UNHCR, the Chief Evangelist of Amazon, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF UK, and the VP of Enterprise Solutions for Dell. Along with the winners of the four other regional finals competitions in Shanghai, Dubai, Boston, and San Francisco, EPOCH will spend the summer prototyping their idea at the Hult Prize accelerator, working towards the ultimate goal of bringing their solution into the hands of refugees and communities worldwide.
Teams from UWaterloo also pitched in the regional finals in Boston and Shanghai.