Syracuse University Hult Prize winners announced

Student startups Farm to Flame Energy and Drop Top won first and second place respectively in the Syracuse campus qualifier for the prestigious Hult Prize, hosted by the Blackstone LaunchPad at Bird Library this week.

Farm to Flame Energy will now advance to one of 15 regional finals in March 2018, and first alternate, Drop Top, will move on to an open national competition, with another opportunity for a spot at the regionals.

A winning team from each of the 15 regional finals will be selected to participate in an eight-week summer residency at the Hult Castle accelerator in the United Kingdom, and a chance to pitch at the United Nations in September 2018, with the winning team receiving the $1,000,000 grand prize.

Farm to Flame Energy team members, William McKnight (left) and Sayje Lasenberry (right)

Farm to Flame Energy, is founded by William Lee Mendes McKnight ’18, Arts and Sciences.  The venture partners with entrepreneurially-minded community members in developing countries to collaboratively design and develop micro-grid solutions, leveraging locally grown crops, to harness the power of energy and build more sustainable rural economies.

Farm to Flame Energy’s patented, smokeless, odorless, efficient bio-mass combustion system can be used for micro-grids, and integrated with a cloud-based sensor system and data analysis for real-time monitoring.  The team proposed a franchise model to achieve scalability, empowering community entrepreneurs and farmers in developing countries to become business partners.  The model includes a strong agricultural education component, teaching local farmers how to plant high yield energy crops that are best suited for their climate and soils, which can be used as local biomass sources.

The model created by Farm to Flame Energy has the power to address Hult’s goal of impacting 10 million people by the year 2025, since it is estimated that 960 million people live in energy poverty in rural areas around the globe.  “I am thrilled that our venture is gaining recognition, so that we can start bringing electricity to those who need it,” said McKnight, who is majoring in history and minoring in chemistry.  He is the son of Lee McKnight, associate professor in the iSchool.

Farm to Flame Energy team members include Kwaku Jyamfi ’18, a chemical engineering major in Engineering and Computer Science, and Sayje Lasenberry ’19, who is majoring in sustainable energy management at SUNY ESF.

Drop Top team members (left to right), Matthew Goodman, Jason Kuperberg and Serena DeSeta

Second place winner, and alternate for the regionals, is Drop Top, with a concept to conserve water and enhance drip irrigation utilizing REVLAR, a waterproof, tear-proof, durable, and impervious paper-thin material specifically designed to withstand high/low temperature fluctuations.  Drop Top’s ingenious design, made entirely of REVLAR, increases agricultural output while conserving water.  The venture also utilizes a franchise model to create scalability and help local farmers become entrepreneurs through education and empowerment.

Drop Top team members include Jason Kuperberg ’18, a biotechnology major in Arts and Sciences,  Serena DeSeta ’18, a dual major in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises and advertising and business communication in Whitman, and Matthew Goodman ’19, a design major in Visual and Performing Arts (VPA).

Hult Prize Syracuse campus judges included:  Alejandro S Amezcua, Assistant Professor, Whitman School of Management; Karen Livingston, energy entrepreneur and senior business advisor, New York State Small Business Development Center; Joshua Aviv, founder, SparkCharge, and entrepreneur in residence, Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship; David Eihlers, innovation consultant, and former co-founder of Blue Highway, as well as adjunct faculty, MBA@SU; and Amanda Chou ’18, founding member and chief marketing officer of Thrive Projects. Thrive Projects was last year’s Syracuse campus Hult Prize winner, and went on to the regionals in Boston.

Ten teams pitched in the campus qualifier, receiving consistently high scores from the judges in a very tight competition.  The other eight teams included:  ComEnergy, led by Tyler Vartabedian (Engineering and Computer Science); Flow, led by Michael McCormack (Whitman); Flux, led by Nate Banks (Architecture); GiraTech, led by Teodoro DeLellis (Engineering and Computer Science); Inspire, led by Kayla Simon (Engineering and Computer Science) and Kutokea, led by Aaron Mwewa (Maxwell).

The Hult Prize, known as “The Nobel Prize for student startups,” seeks out game-changing student social enterprises that compete to solve the world’s toughest challenges.  This year’s theme, “Harnessing the Power of Energy,” issued a challenge to conceive a scalable solution to transform the lives of 10 million people by 2025.  Energy-powered innovation was broadly defined to include six core areas:  connectivity; mobility; farming, food and agriculture; water collection, storage and transport; health and the human experience; and education.  Syracuse winning teams, Farm to Flame Energy and Drop Top, proposed ideas that combined energy, agriculture, education, conservation, and sustainable enterprise. Judges particularly liked their grassroots-driven franchise models that encouraged community-based entrepreneurship, as well as energy innovation.

Swedish billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Bertil Hult established the competition in 2009, and each year the Hult family donates $1,000,000 in seed capital to the winning social enterprise. Rutgers Business School students won last year’s grand prize for their solar-powered rickshaw, Roshni Rides, to reduce energy and encourage sustainable transportation in developing countries with large refugee populations.

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