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University of Calgary alumnus wins $1 million in global competition

Seed money from Hult Prize Foundation to finance educational daycares in urban slums
October 2, 2015

From left: Taylor Scobbie, Juan Prudot, former President Bill Clinton, Andres Escobar and An-Nung Chen win the 2015 Hult Prize on Sept. 26, 2015, which awarded them $1 million in seed money to fund their startup, IMPCT. Photo by Hult Prize Foundation 

Alumnus Taylor Scobbie and his team are working on a profound idea that aims to change early education in urban slums around the world. As the CEO of the Latin America-based social enterprise IMPCT, Scobbie is building a sustainable educational daycare model for the world’s poorest.

On Sept. 26, the idea got a major boost when IMPCT took first place at the Hult Prize final competition in New York City at the Clinton Global Initiative — a prize that will bring the startup company a cheque of $1 million (US).

“Hearing Bill Clinton announce our name felt like being hit in the head with a briefcase full of a million dollars; amazing and terrifying all at the same time,” joked Scobbie, BCOMM’10 and BA’10. “The last year of our lives was focused on prepping for that pitch. Winning gave us a brief moment of respite. The realization that we now have to make it happen instantly brought back all the stress.”

Inspired by enterprising mothers in urban slums

Scobbie says the inspiration for IMPCT came from the time they spent in urban slums in El Salvador and Honduras. They found enterprising mothers running small informal daycares out of their homes. Despite having the passion, these mothers struggled to provide appropriate spaces or education quality because of a lack of access to both capital and training.

“Our Playcare franchise is everything they need to scale up their existing informal daycare into an early education business that you’d be proud to send your children to,” says Scobbie. “Better yet? We’re letting anybody invest in them through our Playcares.com platform. Together we can help them develop real community assets and build a brighter future for their children.”

The company is planning to use the $1 million to set up an Asian office in Taipei and a Latin American office in Guatemala. Earlier this month, the company opened its inaugural Playcare in San Salvador.

Sustainable impact on humanity's most pressing issues

“IMPCT is not only a great early education social enterprise, it’s a breakthrough startup because it enables women in impoverished communities to increase their incomes while paying dividends to investors,” said Ahmad Ashkar, CEO and founder of the Hult Prize Foundation. “We are very proud of them and each of our finalists as they continue their journey to have long-lasting, sustainable impact on humanity's most pressing issues.”

The Hult Prize Foundation is a non-profit organization that holds an annual global competition to challenge young entrepreneurs to solve a global problem with a sustainable social enterprise business model. This year’s theme challenge was to build a new venture to bring quality early education to 10,000,000 children in urban slums by the year 2020.

The winning announcement was made by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Judges for the competition included Nobel laureate Muhammed Yunus and former Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard.

Gruelling process for 21,000 teams

This year’s Hult Prize was a gruelling process for participants. About 21,000 teams were narrowed down to only six through multiple rounds of competition over the course of the year. IMPCT secured a spot in the Dubai regional round by winning a local event in Taiwan but placed second to fellow finalist Attollo from the University of Toronto. They eventually bounced back and secured the last spot in the finals by winning the “online round” crowdfunding challenge, where they raised a record $58,000 (US) to build their first few Playcares.

A team from the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary made it as far as the North American regional finals, and for two years in a row lost to the eventual winners.

Jim Dewald, dean of the Haskayne School of Business, congratulated the IMPCT team on their victory.

“Congratulations to Taylor and his team on this fantastic win and the opportunity to use this significant prize money to continue doing great work helping the impoverished,” said Dewald. “It’s a real treat to see grads like Taylor take what they learned in business school and apply it to addressing such important social challenges. He makes us very proud.” 

Proud moment for University of Calgary 

Richard Sigurdson, dean of the Faculty of Arts, also praised Scobbie and his team. “What a phenomenal achievement and well deserved win,” Sigurdson said. “It is so gratifying to see one of our grads making this kind of impact on a global stage, for such a worthy humanitarian cause.” 

Scobbie feels that the degrees he earned from the University of Calgary have both been critical in the success of IMPCT.

“Social enterprises like ours kind of started as a bizarre fusion of two worlds that people used to think were completely incompatible: business and purpose. When I tell people what my degrees are, I get that exact same reaction: ‘Finance and philosophy, are you crazy?’ I can honestly say that without either I wouldn't be in this position today.”

Entrepreneur credits his education in both philosophy and business 

“The philosophy education delivers the lateral thinking skills and the confidence to develop and deliver a pitch you know is convincing and logically airtight; the business education gives you the ability to turn a novel model into something actionable, real and sustainable.”

His advice for future Hult Prize competitors?

“Accept this challenge at your own peril. You’ll work harder than you ever have before but it will change your life. Once you start looking at social problems through a business lens there’s no going back.”