Tata Center students sweep at IDEAS Global Challenge

Three student teams combine to take home almost $30,000 in prizes.


IDEAS is an annual competition that provides MIT’s social entrepreneurs with mentorship and resources to launch social enterprises. This year, 46 teams competed in nine categories: water and sanitation, education and training, agriculture and food, health and medical, emergency and disaster relief, housing and transportation, energy and environment, mobile devices and communication, and finance and entrepreneurship.

Twelve teams shared $97,500 in cash prizes to help move their projects forward, including three helmed by Tata Fellows.

Rebecca Hui, a first-year Tata Fellow studying water management in India’s peri-urban communities, won a $10,000 prize for her personal project, Roots Studio. Roots Studio connects rural artisans to consumers by enabling them to sell their crafts online, resulting in a 33% margin increase for these craftspeople.

Kevin Kung won $7,500 for his Tata Center project: a torrefaction reactor that densifies agricultural waste into a usable, transportable form. For farmers, this organic waste is currently an economic burden, and it is usually burned in order to clear the fields for the next planting. Kung’s village-scale reactor turns it into an asset, creating a high-quality, densified feedstock for existing biomass-to-energy processes. Setting up locally-managed torrefaction operations will create new income/job opportunities, provide renewable energy, manage waste, and reduce air pollution.

Hugh Magee also took home $7,500 for PrepHub Nepal, a suite of innovations attempting to adapt Nepal’s traditional “patis”—small public pavilions—into hubs that can provide basic necessities such as water and electricity in disaster scenarios. Magee’s is the first Tata Center project based in Nepal, where communities in the Kathmandu Valley are still struggling to recover from a devastating 2015 earthquake. This intervention is aimed not at recovery, but at preparedness for the next such event.

In its 15-year history, IDEAS has awarded more than $750,000 to 128 teams, more than half of which are still active in 44 countries as for-profit and nonprofit firms. Winners have gone on to secure more than $40 million in additional funding. Tata Fellows have won on numerous prior occasions, including last year, when Navi-Chem won the grand prize.

Portions of this report were taken from MIT News coverage of the IDEAS Global Challenge. Photo: Ben Bocko