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Boise State Teams Tackle World Energy Issues in Hult Prize Competition

 Two Boise State Teams, one including students with TechHelp ties, advanced to the regional finals of The Hult Prize, an international competition that brings together the best and brightest university students to solve world issues. The 2018 Hult Prize challenge was to build a scalable, sustainable social enterprise that harnesses the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people by 2025. Former Export Excellence intern, Eldar Sakebaev (L) and current TechHelp Graduate Assistant, Ali Sharifi Shalmani (R),  joined fellow MBA student, Jessica Carolina (C), in developing the “Northstar Energy” project for the competition. Northstar focused on reusing batteries from hybrid vehicles to provide safe, clean, and affordable power to food cart operators in Indonesia.

From left to right – Eldar Sakebaev, Jessica Carolina and Ali Sharifi Shalmani of Boise State’s Northstar Team.

Multiple interviews and deep research led the Northstar Team to focus on meeting the power needs of the 22 million food carts that serve Indonesia’s population of 267 million. Each cart owner purchases and burns about three kilos of natural gas per day creating significant cost, safety and pollution issues. The Northstar Team’s battery pack prototype, named “Little Dipper”, offers a safe and efficient energy alternative designed to help cart owners reduce costs and carbon while improving profitability. Northstar’s model includes an innovative selling plan where users would pay based on the number of battery charge cycles. This model makes the batteries less expensive to users and provides revenue to the charging company through carbon trading.  

Eldar, a native of Kyrgyzstan, was the team’s business development expert who brought an energetic entrepreneurial spirit to the project. Jessica, from Indonesia, acted as the project’s marketing director and designer. Ali, from Iran, added his mechanical engineering and business skills to the mix. Eldar came up with the original idea for reusing hybrid batteries during a Lithium-Ion battery project he worked on with Boise State’s Venture College.  

A second piece of the puzzle came together when Ali took it upon himself to fix rather than replace a damaged battery cell in his Hybrid Car. When faced with a malfunctioning hybrid battery, most normal people bite the bullet and have the battery replaced by professionals at a cost of several thousand dollars. Ali, relying on his skills as an ME, tore into his battery, found and replaced the faulty cell, and soon had a working battery at a fraction of the cost of a new one.  Ali learned that most damaged battery packs were being completely discarded even though many of the cells still had useful life left in them. These two ideas led the team to start working on a way to repurpose used hybrid battery packs.

“Though I did not get to work with Jessica, I had the pleasure of collaborating with Eldar and Ali on a number of projects over the past couple of years. In addition to being smart and multi-talented, they are hardworking, innovative, responsible, and fun. I envy the organizations that hire these talented young people.” Bill Mullane, TechHelp Marketing & Adjunct Professor of International Management at Boise State.

In addition to quantifying the energy needs of the Indonesian market, the team had to actually design, build, test and deliver the “Little Dipper” product. This phase of the project included a trip to Las Vegas where Ali sourced some used hybrid battery packs. Ali’s background in mechanical engineering helped the team address all product development challenges involved in turning used hybrid cells into the Little Dipper. Getting the Little Dipper to the Hult venue in San Francisco on time and under budget presented another challenge that was solved by Eldar’s driving skills and a ten-hour road trip.

The Northstar Team created a working prototype of the Little Dipper battery pack.

The Northstar Team created a working prototype of the Little Dipper battery pack.

Though Northstar did not make it out of the regional competition, the team impressed the judges and other competitors with their Little Dipper prototype and solid business case. The team was chosen to participate in an additional Q&A session with judges where they received a tremendous amount of feedback.

While Eldar and Jessica explore the possibility of creating a company around the Little Dipper idea, they continue to research other ideas for used hybrid battery packs.

The Hult Prize competition challenge is to “Harness the power of energy to transform the lives of 10 million people by 2025” for underprivileged communities. Winners attend the accelerator in London where 50 teams compete for a chance to win $1 million. Six teams advance to New York to present at the United Nations hosted Global Finals.