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Student Entrepreneurs from Yale University Win Prestigious $1 Million 2023 Hult Prize
[September 23, 2023]

Student Entrepreneurs from Yale University Win Prestigious $1 Million 2023 Hult Prize

Just days before the start of Paris Fashion Week, the Hult Prize Foundation on September 22 held its Global Final and named the social entrepreneurial startup Banofi Leather from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, as the winner of the annual $1 million Hult Prize.

Banofi Leather developed technology to convert banana crop waste into vegan, sustainable and cruelty-free leather used for handbag, apparel, and other products.

The annual Hult Prize competition challenges student entrepreneurs from around the world to create and launch businesses aimed at tackling some of society's most pressing issues through social entrepreneurship. Ideas must create measurable positive impact on people and the planet and support the United Nations in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the 2030 deadline.

Every year since 2010, the Hult Prize has posed a different challenge to competitors, with previous contests focused on healthcare, food insecurity, early childhood education, and water access. This year's theme was "Redesigning Fashion." Fashion is the world's third-largest manufacturing sector, employs a sixth of the world's workforce, and is responsible for up to eight percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Banofi Leather was chosen for the Grand Prize over five other finalist teams invited to Paris for the Global Finals, which included:

  • EFFCT (Alexandria University, Egypt): Repurposing textile waste to develop board panels for use in furniture, construction, and packaging.
  • GRAFF INC (Hult International Business School, Unitd States): Manufacturing sustainable material made from textile waste for applications in the fashion industry.
  • Innovious (Cranfield University, England): Making sustainable and scalable inner packaging, such as hangers and tags, from the leaf sheaths of areca trees.
  • Labwear Studios (ETH Zurich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Switzerland): Using on-demand manufacturing and circular product design to minimize overproduction and reduce fashion waste.
  • RiiVERSE (National Taiwan University, Taiwan): Recycling textile waste and repurposing it into raw materials for other industries.

New this year, the Hult Prize Foundation awarded $100,000 in funding to each of the five Finals runners-up.

Judges represented partners of Hult Prize and influential leaders across the fashion industry, including Olivier Gabet, Director of the Department of Objects of Art at the Louvre; Sweaty Betty Founder Tamara Hill-Norton; and fashion environmentalist and interdisciplinary designer Runa Ray.

Sustainable fashion pioneer, advocate and designer Stella McCartney participated in a fireside chat, providing advice to the Hult Prize finalists and announcing Banofi Leather as the winner. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton appeared in the Finals via pre-recorded video, announcing that for next year's competition, which will be the 15th anniversary of Hult Prize, the challenge, topic, and focus would be unlimited, open to any student entrepreneurship team tackling challenges discussed in the UN SDGs.

Hult Prize: Competition Overview
In total, more than 40,000 students participated in the year-long Hult Prize competition, which started with on-campus programs at universities around the world in September 2022 and went through several regional elimination rounds. In June 2023, semi-finals were held via online and live events in 12 cities worldwide, including New York, Mumbai, Nairobi, Lisbon, Dubai, Taipei, and Rio de Janeiro. Through August 2023, a narrowed field of more than 20 teams participated in a virtual learning experience where they transformed their ideas into investment-ready social ventures.

Banofi Leather and the other five finalists gathered in Jambville, France, in September for three intensive weeks of mentorship at the Hult Prize Accelerator to prepare for the Finals.

"The Hult Prize Finals are the culmination of so much hard work by so many student entrepreneurs working to drive social change. This year, it has been a pleasure for everyone involved at Hult Prize to experience the evolution of our finalist businesses and their growth during this journey," said Lori van Dam, CEO of the Hult Prize Foundation. "I'm so happy for Banofi Leather and all the runners-up, but I'm just as excited about the impact the whole Hult Prize community will continue to have on the fashion industry. The ingenuity and optimism that is representative of the more than 40,000 students who have engaged in this process is nothing short of an inspiration that can guide all of us to find ways that businesses can positively impact our world."

The Hult Prize started at Hult International Business School, whose pedagogy and commitment to experiential learning remain embedded in how the competition works. The competition and prizes are funded by the Hult family, founders and owners of EF Education First.

Hult Prize inspires student entrepreneurs to solve the world's biggest challenges through innovative social enterprises with positive global impact. Through our year-long competition, over 100,000 young people in 120 countries work to create high-impact startups that address the annual challenge in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Finalists pitch their businesses to a panel of expert judges, and the winning team receives $1M USD in funding to make their idea a reality.

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