April 26, 2018
By Audrey St. Clair ’03
Four Rollins social entrepreneurship students are literally bringing power to the people with a portable upcycled battery that harnesses renewable energy for those who need it most.
Nikki Hall-Elser ’18, Matias Meirelles Van Vliet ’19, Dayra Diaz-Marquez ’18, and Kinsley Gerks ’20—the trailblazing team behind BatterEASE—recently won the San Francisco regional finals of the Hult Prize, the world’s most prestigious collegiate competition for social innovation startups.
Teams from more than 1,000 colleges competed in the Hult Prize regional finals all around the world, from Boston and Bogota to Shanghai and Singapore. At the San Francisco competition, the Rollins team bested teams from nearly 50 international institutions, including teams from Yale, Cornell, Brown, and UC Berkeley.
“Hult Prize challenges students like myself and my team every year to create an innovative business model that is successful and sustainable all while solving the world’s most pressing social problems,” says Nikki Hall-Elser ’18, BatterEASE founder and CEO. “I believe it is up to my generation to disrupt the status quo, change the way we run businesses, and make our world better.”
The BatterEASE team is one of 50 finalists worldwide that have advanced to participate in an intensive eight-week accelerator program in London over the summer. They’ll go through a rigorous curriculum designed to transform their social innovation ideas into full-fledged startups.
The top six startups from the accelerator will move on to compete for $1 million in seed money at the Hult Prize Final, which will be held in September at the United Nations in New York and will be hosted by former President Bill Clinton.
Known as the “Nobel Prize for students,” the Hult Prize is the world’s largest engines for the launch of for-good, for-profit startups emerging from universities. In just a decade, the movement has deployed more than $50 million of capital into the sector and mobilized more than 1 million young people to rethink the future of business as it continues to breed disruptive innovation on college and university campuses across 100 countries.
“With opportunities like the Hult Prize, social entrepreneurs and students are empowered to start their journeys as changemakers,” says Hall-Elser ’18, a Rollins social entrepreneurship major and BatterEASE CEO and founder. “Hult Prize challenges students like myself and my team every year to create an innovative business model that is successful and sustainable all while solving the world’s most pressing social problems. I believe it is up to my generation to disrupt the status quo, change the way we run businesses, and make our world better.”
“This experience has allowed me to be part of the solution to one of the world’s biggest challenges, energy poverty, in a way I could never have imagined: with actual possibilities and not just hypotheticals or case studies,” says Dayra Diaz-Marquez ’18, BatterEASE co-founder and director of impact.
BatterEASE is an accessible and sustainable power alternative that would allow millions of people around the world who live without access to reliable power to stay connected to families, access important information, and light their nights while being environmentally friendly and cost-effective.
The team’s success is a testament to Rollins’ world-class social entrepreneurship curriculum and ecosystem. In 2012, Rollins became the first liberal arts institution in the South and the first college in Florida to be named a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka U. The College’s social entrepreneurship major was the first program of its kind to receive accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the world’s premier evaluator of business schools. Last year, the College partnered with Central Florida’s foremost social entrepreneurs to found Rally, a social enterprise accelerator housed on the Rollins campus.
“The Hult Prize competition really showed me the importance of teamwork, synchronicity, and the scalability of an idea,” says Matias Meirelles Van Vliet ’19, BatterEASE co-founder and director of sustainability. “We were only able to move forward with our solution because it basically can be implemented anywhere.”
The College’s Social Impact Hub has hosted a Hult Prize on Campus competition for the past four years. Team BatterEASE’s win in the 2018 campus competition allowed them to bypass the Hult Prize’s general-application round and move on directly to the San Francisco regional final.
Along the way, the team received training and support from Hub campus directors Irina Ryabikina and Maxim Zarudnyy and mentorship from a number of Rollins faculty, including social entrepreneurship professors Cecilia McInnis-Bowers, Raja Singaram, and Josephine Balzac, political science professor Dan Chong, and international business professor Mary Conway Dato-On.
“My goal in studying at Rollins was to pair my education with a simultaneous real-world application of social entrepreneurial skills and practices,” says Kinsley Gerks ’20, BatterEASE co-founder and director of marketing. “Through the creation of BatterEASE and our success so far in the Hult Prize competition, I am reaching that goal and more.”
Follow the BatterEASE journey:
A Campus Committed to Change
Rollins is one of just 42 colleges in the world to earn Ashoka U’s Changemaker Campus designation, which recognizes the leading institutions in social innovation and changemaking.
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