Four University of Wisconsin engineering students will compete for the chance to win $1 million in an international competition to find a way to stop the spread of diseases in urban slums.
The competition is hosted by the Hult International Business School and the $1 million prize is supplied by the family of the entrepreneur and billionaire Bertil Hult, according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The team consists of a graduate student in medical physics, Jon Seaton, two mechanical engineering seniors, Bimpe Olaniyan and Eric Ronning, and a chemical engineering senior, Cedric Kovacs-Johnson, according to a UW statement.
“We are, of course, very honored to be selected to compete in the competition,” Olaniyan said. “Since the selection was based on our collective résumé and an essay, it is humbling that the Hult Prize organization thinks we have what it takes to be effective agents of change.”
According to the statement, the team was chosen because of an excellent blending of background and experience that will allow the team to solve this years selected problem, which is how to reduce the spread of non-communicable disease in urban slums.
Two of every four deaths worldwide are a result of a non-communicable disease such as cardiovascular disease, according to the statement. The team is now looking into problems related to the spread of non-communicable diseases in urban slums, such as lack of transportation and lifestyle changes.
Olaniyan said the team is still considering possible solutions, although no definite ideas have taken shape yet.
“We have some ideas for solutions, but as engineers, it has been more important to us to really understand the context of the problem we are approaching in each relevant location,” she said. “The last thing we would want to do is come up with a flashy solution that has no cultural applicability.”
Olaniyan said the team is focused on developing a solution that will be applicable in reality. It is important that the solution be able to be implemented in a real town with real people, she said.
One winner selected from each regional competition will attend a summer program this summer to further develop the solution, and will then pitch it to a panel of judges that includes former President Bill Clinton, according to the article.
The sole winner will receive $1 million of seed capital, which will cover start-up and initial operating fees for the business, the Journal Sentinel reported. This seed capital will also serve to develop the proposed product and implement it in the specified region.
Olaniyan said it does not take much to help change the world.
“All you need is a team of four or five students who want to make the world a better place,” Olaniyan said. “The city of Madison, as well as the campus, has plenty of those people.”
The team will also travel to Sao Paulo, Brazil in early March to pitch its idea for the solution to a regional panel of judges.