MC students to compete in regional Hult Prize competition

MC students to compete in regional Hult Prize competition

Dec. 12, 2016

A team of three Maryville College students won the campus-wide competition for the Hult Prize – a start-up accelerator for budding young social entrepreneurs – and will compete in the regional Hult Prize competition in Boston, Mass., this spring.

Founded in 2009 by Hult International Business School graduate Ahmad Ashkar and run by the Hult Prize Foundation in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the contest challenges teams of students enrolled at colleges and universities around the world to develop business plans that address a global social challenge. Teams of three or four students develop innovative startup enterprises to solve the problem and then compete in multiple rounds over several months until a winner is announced. In addition to a $1 million prize, the winning team receives mentorship and advice from the international business community.

The 2017 Hult Prize challenge is “Refugees - Reawakening Human Potential" and focuses on restoring the rights and dignity of people and societies who may be, or are forced into motion due to social injustices, politics, economic pressures, climate change and war. The challenge asks “Can we build sustainable, scalable social enterprises that restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2022?”

Six teams of students competed in this year’s campus competition for the Hult Prize. The judges were a mix of faculty and off-campus community members with business experience: John Kalec, retired executive vice president and CFO of Clayton Homes; Beth Hamil, the executive director of the Cancer Support Community in Knoxville; Sherry Kasper, professor emerita of economics at Maryville College; Susan Edwards, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Knoxville Utilities Board; Cole Piper ’68, former director of Maryville College’s Non-Profit Leadership Alliance; and Amy Gilliland, director of community engagement at Maryville College. 

‘An eco-friendly solution’

The winning idea at Maryville College was for a business that manufactures tampons from corn husks. Team members Kalyn Carpenter ’19, Justis Owens ’19 and Seth Pemberton ’20 conceived of the enterprise and call it “Maiztex.”

“The tampons will be biodegradable and they're essentially made from a waste product to ensure an eco-friendly solution to typical tampons,” explained Pemberton, an environmental studies major from Dickson, Tenn.

The materials are cheap to purchase and process, Carpenter added.

“What makes our tampons different is that they will be made out of an absorbent cellulose fiber derived from corn husks that is disinfected with just hydrogen peroxide so that it doesn't contain dioxins; moreover, the applicator and individual wrapper are made from bioplastic,” said Carpenter, a political science major from Granbury, Texas. “With our plan, we seek to employ refugees at a livable wage of $13/hour to process, pack and distribute our environmentally friendly tampons. When our company reaches a point where it is feasible – projected to be 2022 – we will be donating tampons to 10 million refugees.”

Carpenter said she originally came up with the concept because she learned that feminine hygiene products are often forgotten about when it comes to donations to refugees. Additionally, most feminine hygiene products are not environmentally friendly, so the team wanted to develop a plan for a business that would manufacture and provide biodegradable feminine hygiene products to female refugees.

“For average consumers in the U.S., tampons aren't regulated and can often contain traces of various chemicals used during processing that can be harmful when directly absorbed into the bloodstream,” Carpenter said. “From an environmental perspective, feminine hygiene products are a huge source of waste – a single woman creates over 62,000 pounds of garbage in her lifetime from her menstrual cycle alone. Since most tampons contain rayon, they don't decompose; because ours would be made out of just cellulose fiber and the applicator and wrapper are made from bioplastic, the whole product is completely compostable. Our business extends beyond refugees and truly benefits everyone, from the everyday consumer who buys our products to the American farmers we'd purchase corn husks from.” 

A learning experience

The three team members, who will travel to Boston, Mass., for the regional competition March 3 and 4, said the process of researching and preparing for the competition was a valuable learning experience.

In addition to learning about corn husk as a sustainable solution for many products, Pemberton said the research process opened his eyes to the barriers refugee women face without proper hygiene materials.

Carpenter said she learned “how much truly goes into putting a business together.”

For Owens, the plan addressed an important issue and also aligned with his major, international business.

“I learned about the amount of time and effort that goes into developing a business plan for a potential company,” said Owens, who is from Hutto, Texas. “Dealing with refugees in another country and having to relate that to creating a business was very interesting. I also learned that when developing a plan, you have to care about what change you are about to make. Kalyn, Seth and I truly care about this project, and without that, our plan wouldn’t have gotten us this far.”

Dr. John Gallagher, professor of management and faculty advisor for the Hult Prize at Maryville College, said the Hult Prize competition is in line with the College’s mission statement.

  “The Hult Prize competition always presents students with a considerable challenge asking them to develop enterprises that address pressing social issues, and this requires them to take what they learn and apply it outside of the classroom,” he said. “When we talk about preparing students ‘for lives of citizenship and leadership as we challenge each one to search for truth, grow in wisdom, work for justice and dedicate a life of creativity and service to the peoples of the world,’ this is exactly what we mean.”

Hult Prize at Maryville College

Grace Costa ’18, an international studies major from Oak Ridge, Tenn., is this year’s campus director for the Hult Prize at Maryville College.

Costa, who competed in the campus Hult Prize competition last year, said her decision to become this year’s campus director was based on her friendship with Souha Arbi, an international student from Tunisia who introduced the Hult Prize to Maryville College last year.

“The competition was unheard of and unknown to students and faculty before Souha made us an eligible school to hold a campus-wide competition,” Costa said. “I was very excited about the opportunity to create and present a business plan designed to change the world. My team placed second last year, but I was able to learn a lot about how the competition works from a competitor’s point of view and what it takes to construct a winning idea. The reason I am so passionate about being campus director this year is because the Hult Prize pushes students to believe something as simple as an idea and a PowerPoint presentation can be the spark of something that changes the world.”

Costa said she thinks it is important for the campus community to compete in the Hult Prize competition, because “every year, the Hult Prize Foundation comes out with a new challenge relevant to a crisis in the world today.”

“Not only do students have to confront this crisis by researching and developing plans to combat it, but they also must believe that they are capable of creating something with limited resources that can impact people in dire situations,” she said.

By Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications 


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,197.