UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


UCL students win $1 million global prize

21 September 2018

Statistical Sciences Julia Vannaxay among undergraduate team who have won the Hult Prize after conceiving a rice drying business which will reduce the millions of tons of rice wasted annually.

Hult Prize

Former US President Bill Clinton presented UCL’s winning team with a $1 million award in New York City to kick-start their business and they will work with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Already successfully piloted in Malaysia and Myanmar, the business will look to reduce the 350 million tons of rice lost post-harvest every year by offering farmers better access to drying technology at an affordable price, which will also help lift farmers out of poverty.

Bringing together cross-faculty expertise from biomedical sciences, statistical sciences and economics, the UCL team of Kisum Chan, Lincoln Lee, Julia Vannaxay and Vannie Koay, were supported by Innovation and Enterprise and the School of Management at UCL. 

The Hult Prize is the world’s largest platform and accelerator for the creation and launch of sustainable and impact-centred start-ups emerging from universities all over the globe. The 2018 challenge was to build a sustainable, scalable social enterprise that harnessed the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people.

The UCL team won the chance to pitch at the global finals having beaten 200,000 other ideas that competed at on-campus, regional and semi-final stages over the course of the year-long Hult Prize programme.

“Our personal heritage as a team shaped the project in every way. Coming from Malaysia, Laos and Hong Kong, where rice is the staple diet, we were shocked at how inefficient and wasteful the rice supply chain is,” said Lincoln, CEO of the UCL Hult Prize winning team. 

The team will help create a more effective supply chain whereby rice is bought directly from farmers and dried using renewable energy resulting in avoiding the 30 % spoilage rate farmers would normally incur when attempting to treat the rice themselves.

“In the countries where we come from, communities would collapse without rice but the people growing the crop are the ones left behind and through no fault of their own, the practices of these farmers are also the root cause of the waste in the supply chain. Due to high costs, farmers can’t access existing technology that could solve these problems. Our goal is to change that,” added Lincoln.

Dr Celia Caulcott, UCL Vice-Provost (Enterprise) said, “This is a superb achievement for these UCL students, and all those who worked with and supported them. They are not only a shining example of the entrepreneurial spirit that runs throughout UCL, they exemplify how solving the world’s most pressing challenges can also make good business sense.”

The 2018 Hult Prize was judged by a panel including esteemed industry leaders such as Arianna Huffington (co-founder Huffington Post), Paul Polman (Global CEO Unilever) and Hans Vestberg (CEO Verizon). Next year’s challenge will be to develop an idea that provides meaningful jobs for 10 million young people within the next decade.

Media contact

Nazia Begum

Tel: +44(0)203 108 8507

Email: nazia.begum [at] ucl.ac.uk