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

M&Ts Work to Improve Refugee Communication through Hult Prize

This year the M&T community was proud to send two groups of students to compete for the Hult Prize. Nishita Jain (’20) wrote about her team’s experience in a previous post. We asked Chris Lin, Connor Chong, and Victor Chien (’20) to share their journey as well.

This year’s focus was “Refugees – Reawakening Human Potential”. What product did your team come up with to restore the rights and dignity of refugees?

Connor, Chris, and Victor show off their “M + T” pride

Our idea was to create a mesh network to help improve refugees’ ability to communicate. We came up with the idea of a Mesh network partially because of our team’s background. All of us have some computer science background, and three of us were majoring in either CIS or CompE. It seemed natural to leverage our familiarity with technology. But, it was difficult to think of an idea that used tech in a truly impactful way. Eventually, we flipped our brainstorming process and decided to pick an idea we really wanted to work on–a mesh network– and then tried to come up with how it could be applied to the refugee crisis.

Did you encounter any problems during development? How did you address them?

One of the big questions we tried to tackle regarding a refugee communications network was how it would be set up. We realized no matter how efficient or effective we made our software, it wouldn’t matter if refugees didn’t have the hardware to support it. So we chose to take a two-pronged approach to mesh, creating both a mobile application and cheap signal amplifier.

A big challenge we faced in development was accommodating the sheer unpredictability of our target audience’s environment. Refugees live a life of continual uncertainty and face a wide variety of hardships, so we knew we’d need to ensure our network worked no matter what. It had to meet the real life needs of refugees. That means even when there is no internet, cellular network, or access to power, mesh still has to work reliably. The meshbox was our solution to a lot of those challenges. It functions as a solar-powered phone charger, stores a downloadable copy of the mesh app, and can significantly increase the user’s smartphone connection range.

The team at the semi-finals in San Francisco

 What did you take away from this experience?

Hult was an amazing opportunity for us to take an idea we had and really put it through its paces. Truthfully, the competition was a little overwhelming at first. As freshmen, we didn’t have much experience with business strategy or entrepreneurship. Even so, the Hult Prize was a great chance to learn by doing and allowed us to get hands-on experience creating a business model. We definitely recommend it!

So, what’s next for your team?

Even though this year’s Hult Prize is over, at least for us, our team still believes in mesh. We plan to continue development as we look for ways to expand outside of just refugees. We want to reach out to professors and other students who might have experience relevant to some of the hurdles we’re facing. By continuously improving upon our technology, and with a little luck, we hope to take mesh further than it’s ever been!

 

Chris Lin is a bioengineering major and member of the Class of 2020. He plans to go into biotechnology R&D and loves studying both the business and technology sides of innovation as an M&T.

Connor Chong is also a member of the Class of 2020 and is studying computer engineering, concentrating in statistics and OIDD. He plans to work in the nonprofit tech field and appreciates the supportive M&T community, saying: “The people make those long nights interesting with their multiple perspectives. Each M&T is so inspiring!” One of his favorite quotes is: “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

 Victor Chen, class of 2020, is studying computer information science and concentrating in entrepreneurial management. After graduation, he plans to work in tech entrepreneurship. His favorite thing about M&T is all the engaging people he meets.

 

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