The insider's guide to the Jerome Fisher Program at the University of Pennsylvania

Entrepreneurship and Social Impact: How One Email Changed My First Semester at Penn

My semester at Penn was a whirlwind: filled with finding close friends, exploring courses, and discovering my true passions. There were so many surprises! And one of the biggest came from an email I received in late September.

The email was about a startup and social impact competition run by the Hult Prize Foundation. The competition focused on recognizing and working towards solving a problem that plagued refugees worldwide. I was immediately intrigued. After reading about some of the enterprises started in past years, I was astounded. The entrepreneurs’ ideas were not only impressive they also showed a true commitment to improving the lives of those around them. It was inspiring. I quickly gathered three of my closest friends, Riddhi Surana, Charles Zhang, and Varun Vallabhaneni, and we started researching.

 

Nishita (center, right) and her teammates, Riddhi, Varun, and Charles at the Hult Prize @ Penn competition in December. Photo credit: Zian Xiong / Daily Pennsylvanian

Nishita (center, right) and her teammates, Riddhi, Varun, and Charles at the Hult Prize @ Penn competition in December. Photo credit: Zian Xiong / Daily Pennsylvanian

Initially, we found it challenging to pinpoint a specific and unique problem we could solve. We quickly realized this wasn’t just about innovating but about analyzing key business concepts such as marketing and supply chain management. As a student in the M&T Program at Penn, I was especially drawn into this evaluation of technology within the context of the real world.

Eventually, we noticed a little-publicized problem that refugees face: lack of adequate dental care. Poor dental health is one of the most perverse problems, leading to even more magnified diseases and disorders later in life.

Most wouldn’t think of this as an impacting issue, so dental care is often overlooked. We took this as a challenge to innovate for a sustainable and scalable solution – one that would leave a lasting impact.

Months of research culminated in the creation of the Haya Brush: a low-cost, organic alternative to a toothbrush. The process of ideating the Haya Brush was amazing, but the best part was realizing the impact this brush could have on the everyday lives of refugees. We soon became wholeheartedly, invested in our idea.

From there on, our work was cut out for us. We had a few short weeks to get ready for the Hult Prize @ Penn. We formally outlined our business plans, created slide decks, and finalized our pitch. The experience was unbelievable! We were humbled to receive first prize at the competition on December 3rd and are incredibly excited to represent Penn at the Regional Finals in Boston in March. In the meantime, we are working on prototyping and perfecting our pitch.

Working on the Hult Prize with some of my best friends has been one of my most valuable learning experiences at Penn. I grew as an entrepreneur and an innovator, and my work on our Hult Prize entry has given me insight into the importance of the entrepreneurship revolution in driving social change. I feel privileged to experience this first-hand and look forward to the upcoming Regional Finals!

Nishita Jain is a member of the class of 2020, majoring in Computer Science. After Penn, she plans to work at a startup company committed to utilizing technology for social change. Her favorite thing about being an M&T is meeting people with such varied interests, and learning about their many goals and passions.

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