Four Rhodes University PhD Chemistry students have bagged the top position in the 2019 Hult Prize Challenge for their business model for a waste management system that will result in the employment of more than 10 000 young people…

The four students, who go by the name “Team E-Smart” are Nobuhle Ndebele, 24, Lindokuhle Nene, 25, Reitumetse Nkhahle, 26 and Gauta Matlou, 29 and were the only students from a South African university participating at the summit, held at the Brookhouse International School in Nairobi, Kenya.

Their business model aims to create job opportunities for the youth through the collection of electronic and electrical waste materials and further recycling, repairing or repurposing it into new market products.

“[This] so impressed the judges that they were awarded the top position against 45 other teams from across the world,” university spokesperson Velisile Bukula said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Hult Prize was established in 2010 by its CEO Ahmad Ashkar and Bertil Hult to crowd-source startup ideas from young people on how to sustainably solve the world’s most critical social issues such as food security, water access, energy, and education.

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“Today, the Hult Prize Foundation is the world’s biggest engine for the launch of for-good, for-profit startups emerging from universities with over 2 500 staff and volunteers around the world,” its site says.

“Training over one million youth in impact entrepreneurship over the past decade, the movement has deployed more than $50m (over R700m) of capital into the sector and mobilised and empowered millions of young people to re-think the future of business as it continues to breed disruptive innovation on college and university campuses across 100 plus countries.”

This year, university and college students from across the world were challenged to create a social-entrepreneurship start-up that would result in more than 10 000 jobs over the next decade

Speaking at the opening of the challenge, former US president Bill Clinton said young people currently felt stuck.

“It is this feeling of being stuck that makes them vulnerable to resentment, and then to divisive political rhetoric and conspiracy theories like the ones we are witnessing today around the world.”

“It is this feeling of being stuck that makes them vulnerable to resentment, and then to divisive political rhetoric and conspiracy theories like the ones we are witnessing today around the world.”

“If you feel economically stuck and socially displaced and there is no lifeline and no options… I therefore believe that this challenge, to develop an idea that provides meaningful work for 10 000 young people within the next decade, is particularly important in the current global environment.”

Team E-smart came up with a business model based on electronic waste, because these electronics have “hazardous components in them”, team leader Matlou said.

In addition, South Africa annually produces 316 000 tons of electronic waste of which only 12% is collected and recycled.

“The electronic waste that is currently not collected and recycled or re-purposed will raise about R15bn for the South African economy,” fellow team member Nene explained.

Their team coach, who is also a senior lecturer at Rhodes Business School, Dr Tshidi Mohapeloa, said she was impressed with how they adapted and understood the business world.

“This is an opportunity for them to become entrepreneurs.”

This win will be followed by the E-team paying a visit to the United Kingdom from July 27 for the Hult-Prize Acceleration programme which is expected to last eight weeks.”The programme aims to prepare more than 25 winning teams from different regional summits for the final pitch competition where the best business idea will win $1m (around R14.2m) as a start-up injection,” Bukula concluded.

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