The Hult Prize is the world's largest student business idea competition in which university students and graduate students from around the world compete for ideas to solve social issues. Sponsored by the Hult Prize Foundation, each year the event has a theme related to the United Nations SDGs, and the winning team receives $1 million in corporate funding. In 2019, we participated in this project by working on building a business plan to reduce food loss. At the Hokkaido University internal preliminaries held in December 2019, we passed the preliminaries in 3rd place and advanced to the regional preliminaries. Unfortunately, they were not able to make it through the regional qualifying round held online in April 2020. The team name, Sophos, is a coined word that combines the English word "Sophomore," which means second-year student, and the Greek word "σοφός," which means wise man.
This time we interviewed Yume Ishikawa (4th year, School of Science) and Erika Teramoto (4th year, School of Humanities and Human Sciences). As Team Sophos, we took on the challenge of the 2019 Hult Prize and almost made it through the Hokkaido University qualifying round. What did the two of you feel from this Hult Prize experience?
Devising an app that tells you expiration dates and recommended recipes
Please tell us the theme that Team Sophos worked on for the Hult Prize.
Ishikawa: What we worked on was developing an app that would help reduce food waste at home.
How did you decide on the theme of food loss?
Teramoto: I thought that there was something we, as undergraduate students, could do to solve problems that were familiar to our lives, so we came up with the theme of food loss. However, because the four students were from completely different faculties and fields of specialization, it took a very long time to decide on a theme.
It is true that all four of us have different areas of expertise. Where did the four of you meet?
Teramoto: Hokkaido University has a program called Nitobe College where you can acquire the skills to play an active role in a global society. Nitobe College is open to all undergraduate students, and all four of us were students at Nitobe College, where we all got to know each other.
Ishikawa: Mr. Teramoto and I met at the student hall (dormitory) where we lived before entering Nitobe College, and I approached Mr. Teramoto about participating in the Hult Prize.
What made you decide to participate?
Ishikawa: I happened to hear from the person who was running the Hult Prize that they were having trouble finding a team to participate this year, so I told them they could participate and gathered the members. I don't think about the SDGs on a daily basis, so I thought it would be a good idea to participate in the Hult Prize. In my field of expertise, I don't think about things like global warming, so as someone who lives on Earth, I thought it would be good to know about it, and since the competition was all in English, I wanted to learn my English skills somewhere. I decided to participate because I thought it would be great if I could use it.
After passing the internal selection, I was selected to participate in the next Asian regional competition, and was planning to go to Australia, but due to the coronavirus, the competition was held online, and I was unable to make it through the Asian competition.
What kind of app is the "food loss reduction app" you devised?
Ishikawa: It's an app that allows you to register the food you have in your refrigerator, and it will remind you of the expiration date and come up with recipes using that food. I wasn't able to actually create an app, but I was able to try it out manually. We asked three people to send photos of the food they had at home on LINE, and when it was about to expire, we would send them reminders and recipe ideas on LINE.
What was the reaction from users?
Ishikawa: We received feedback that they were very grateful to us for suggesting recipes. On the other hand, if you suddenly have plans to eat out, you cannot control how you plan to use the food. I found that point quite difficult. Even if you send a recipe, cooking itself may be a hassle.
Teramoto: It was difficult to motivate people when reducing food waste took a lot of effort.
Passed the Hult Prize Hokkaido University qualifying round
What kind of presentation did you make at the Hokkaido University qualifying round?
Teramoto: I gave a presentation in English for about 6 minutes using slides. At the time of the Hokkaido University qualifying round, we had not yet put the app into practice, so we talked about what we had researched about food loss and our idea for the app.
In the Hokkaido University preliminaries, even though I was a second-year undergraduate student, I finished in 3rd place out of 8 teams. How was the day of the qualifying round?
Teramoto: The venue was not very large and had a homely atmosphere, so I think I was able to present in a relaxed manner.
Ishikawa: Interacting with other teams was also a good stimulus. The international students were used to the venue, and as expected, their presentations were good. During the break, we were able to eat what was provided at the venue and interact with other teams, which was fun.
Struggling to create a monetization system
How did you proceed with your activities after the Hokkaido University qualifying round?
Teramoto: We conducted a survey on food loss among people close to us and manually tried out the app I mentioned earlier. The survey asks people what kind of food they throw away and how often. Through the questionnaire, we learned more about the current situation around us, put ideas into practice for the app, and took on the challenge of the next regional qualifying round. Unfortunately, we did not make it through to the regional qualifying rounds.
Looking back on it now, are there any areas where you regret or struggled?
Ishikawa: The Hult Prize is a business contest, so we need to think about how we can make a profit and grow as a business. I had never thought about things from that perspective before, so that was particularly difficult.
Teramoto: In the run-up to the preliminaries, we held several workshops where we received advice from people in business and people who were familiar with the SDGs, and they also pointed out how to make profits.
Ishikawa: I don't think there are many people who would go out of their way to reduce food waste by paying money, so I really struggled to create a system to monetize it. It was a great experience in that I was able to learn how to plan a company from its launch to growth.
It is important to know the current situation correctly and interact with people from different fields.
Has your awareness changed in any way regarding the SDGs, especially the food you worked on this time?
Ishikawa: I've known about the SDGs for a while, but after working on the issue of food loss, my awareness of food has changed. Even in everyday life, when I see food waste, I react reflexively.
When did you first know about the SDGs?
Ishikawa: When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to participate in a Model United Nations conference that imitated a United Nations conference, and that's when I learned about the SDGs and did a little research. Even after entering university, I had the opportunity to listen to talks about the SDGs in class.
You had many opportunities to come into contact with SDGs.
Ishikawa: It's difficult to think of global issues like the SDGs as something personal, but I feel like this was the first step in thinking about them even from casual aspects of everyday life. I think that by learning about the current situation through Hult Prize activities, I have come to see food waste as a personal issue.
Mr. Teramoto, have you known about the SDGs before?
Teramoto: In my case, when I was a high school student, I didn't have a strong awareness of issues. However, when I entered university, I took classes that were unrelated to my major, and talked with people in fields different from my own, and I think that was often where my awareness of issues was born.
My specialty is sociology, and I try to critically look at social mechanisms and discover issues. I also think it is important to understand that just because SDGs are not all good. However, there is a tendency to lean toward a sociological perspective, which only shows one side of the problem. If we get too fixated on that, we might end up overlooking the many problems behind it, so I tried to listen to the opinions of colleagues in different fields.
How was it working with the four members of Team Sophos?
Ishikawa: When the four of us talked, Mr. Teramoto often pointed out points that the other members didn't notice from the perspective of gender and education. It was something that I wouldn't normally pay attention to, so it was very refreshing.
Teramoto: I also learned a lot from listening to people in the science field. Even if things are obvious to me, there are people who don't take them for granted, and I feel it's important to have discussions with those people.
I learned a lot from people in fields different from my own.
Teramoto: The problem of food waste is an image that many people with science backgrounds are concerned with, but for example, ``how to motivate others to take a certain action'' is a problem that cannot be solved by science majors alone. I think it would be great if there were more opportunities to interact with people from other fields, and an environment where you could make full use of your expertise, not just at the Hult Prize or Nitobe College.
Hokkaido University URA Station / SDGs Initiative Office (Planning)
Space Time Co., Ltd. Keiko Nakamura (Director/Editing/Writing) Kyohei Hosoya (Writing)
Affiliation: Hokkaido University School of Science of Science, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 4th year
Born and raised in Sapporo. More winter than summer. He is very knowledgeable about the weather and will give you weather forecasts when Sophos members go on trips. At the Hult Prize, he played an active role in English with a British accent.
Affiliation: Hokkaido University School of Humanities and Human Sciences, Sociology Laboratory, 4th year
Born in Hyogo Prefecture, I love autumn in Sapporo. Major is educational sociology. At the Hult Prize, I was acutely aware of the difficulty of using your brain in a practical way, which is not often the case in sociology, which I usually study.
Affiliation: Hokkaido University School of Science Department of Biological Sciences, Department of Macromolecular Functional Science, 4th year
I came to Hokkaido University because I admired the nature of Hokkaido. Actually, I was surprised that Sapporo is a big city. I'm glad that I was able to think about the earth I live in through the Hult Prize, and that I was able to meet some interesting team members.
Affiliation: 4th year, Department of Forest Science School of Agriculture, Hokkaido University
Originally from Kanagawa Prefecture, I came to Hokkaido because I wanted to learn about forests and had a vague admiration for it. The Hult Prize was my first experience with social entrepreneurship, and I became fascinated with the idea of bringing change to the world through business, which was a great inspiration.