Lede

Could this be a $1 million idea?

02-25-14-Academics-Hult-lede

Loyola’s Hult Prize team, clockwise from lower left: Dominika Ryba, Karolina Krawczyk, Alfonso Cortes, Alex Gonzalez, and Emily Edkins.

By Tanner Walters  |  Student reporter

At first glance, Loyola business students and science students seem to be different breeds entirely. Biology majors conduct research and experiment in laboratories on the Lake Shore Campus, while finance and business majors pitch products and talk numbers downtown.

But, as it turns out, they’ve got chemistry.

A five-person team of business and science students from Loyola has advanced to the regional round for the prestigious Hult Prize, an international competition that awards $1 million in seed money to students with the best idea for a social enterprise start-up. More than 10,000 teams submitted ideas for this year’s Hult Prize; those original proposals were whittled down to about 300, putting the Loyola team in elite company.

This year’s competitors were tasked with reducing and managing chronic diseases in global slums. The plan, when implemented, must be able to help 25 million people by the year 2019.

When senior biology majors Dominika Ryba and Karolina Krawczyk learned of the competition, they knew they wanted to give it a try.

“It started out simplistically, in the Information Commons,” Krawczyk said. “We really had no idea about any of these topics. Going about and making a plan and reaching the milestone required a lot of research.”

They realized, however, that they were in over their heads with some parts of their plan.

“We’re both science majors,” Krawczyk said. “We know how chronic diseases work. We know what we could do to help and treat these individuals once they’ve been diagnosed, but we couldn’t figure out how to go about dealing with the financial aspect of our plan.”

The pair turned to the Quinlan School of Business for help. One of several people to respond was instructor Leonard Gingerella. With a specialty in social entrepreneurship, Gingerella was quick to lend a hand.

“He was willing to put together a group of business students to meet a few times a month and go over and try to make progress on a realistic plan,” Krawczyk said.

This group included three students who would later be added to the team: finance major Emily Edkins, business major Alfonso Cortes, and biochemistry major Alex Gonzalez. The team worked to develop the plan, which aims to expand the use of telemedicine globally, starting in the urban slums of Valparaiso, Chile.

Telemedicine uses technology, such as laptop webcams, to let doctors provide health care to patients at a distance. Essentially, it allows everyone to communicate without anyone having to travel. Doctors can even use telemedicine to diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication to treat patients.

While countries such as Brazil have been using telemedicine systems for years, Chile’s program is mostly untouched—which made it the ideal starting point for the team.

“The Valparaiso slum, where we are planning to set up our first portal system, has almost complete phone and Internet coverage,” said Krawczyk, emphasizing that much of the high-tech infrastructure is already in place. 

And because Cortes and Gonzalez are both fluent in Spanish, the team was able to translate and use international research. The model involves a plan to expand into other countries, with the potential to one day be supported by government-funded health care systems. The initial $1 million seed fund would be used to purchase telemedicine equipment, Krawczyk said.

The Loyola team will compete on March 7 and 8 in San Francisco against teams from dozens of institutions, including Harvard University, Stanford University, and MIT. There, the students will pitch their plan to a panel of international judges.

If they win the San Francisco regional, the Loyola team would take part in an intensive summer program at the Hult International Business School, where they would be able to further develop their plan and even visit Chile. From there it would be on to New York City, where the final six teams from around the world will present their ideas at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting—with former President Bill Clinton serving as one of the judges.

For now, though, Loyola’s team is focused on its presentation in San Francisco.

“We’re just so grateful for everyone that helped us—the College of Arts and Sciences for sponsoring us and the Quinlan School of Business for the aid,” Ryba said.

“Helping people worldwide corresponds directly to the Jesuit mission,” Krawczyk said. “It’s what Loyola is about.”

Learn more about the competition at the Hult Prize website.