Freshmen and MBA students become regional finalists for Hult Prize

Thursday, March 8, 2018 - 5:24pm

Three months ago, University of Michigan Engineering freshman Amulya Parmar went into the Ross School of Business with the hope of solving a technological problem. That day, Parmar said he found three Business graduate students, including Bidnam Lee and Margaret Fleming to join him searching for a way to improve internet connectivity in an affordable manner. The group, BroadBand Zero has since become one of 100 regional finalists for the Hult International Business School’s Hult Prize for $1 million in seed funding. The prize is awarded every year to MBA and college students with proposed projects that address pressing social issues.

Broadband Zero, according to Amulya, is a platform that builds solar-powered, “white space” broadband towers, “white space” referring to broadcasting frequencies not already in use. This allows Broadband Zero to broadcast internet, rather than the traditional wiring of internet connections. While not the first to create this type of system, they are looking to leverage the technology to benefit local economies.

“We face an imaginable broadband (internet) gap in the world we call home,” Amulya wrote in an email interview. “Three-in-five people don’t have access to the internet. To me, this explains why our world shares a certain disproportionate development between certain countries.”

Amulya believes internet service is akin to a country or municipality's infrastructure, but is underprovided across the world, adding seven in 10 children in Detroit do not have an internet connection, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

“I have been excited about the internet as long as I can remember, but for that reason, it makes me very disappointed to see that 60 percent of the world’s population does not have access to the internet,” Amulya wrote. “We here at Broadband Zero want to turn (that) number into a single Zero.”

“We are not the first individuals to create whitespace or use solar-power,” Amulya wrote. “But we are the two to truly build a crowdinvesting platform that enables local economies and communities to feel the impact. We want to lower the cost of the internet to the consumer, while providing market return rates to the investor.” 

Business graduate student Nathan Stevens, one of the graduate students working on the project with Amulya said the group has a diverse set of skills, and each used their background knowledge to enhance the growth of the project. Stevens uses his knowledge of economic development in Middle Eastern and North African countries to build a realistic business model for the startup.

“The Hult Prize is an incredible opportunity,” Stevens wrote in an email interview. “Beyond the funding and exposure, winning would be a significant validation of our idea and, hopefully, the beginning of an impactful business that would bring fast, affordable internet to the unconnected world.”

Engineering freshman James Lorenz also worked on the project, bringing his background in solar technology, wireless technology and amateur radio.

“Winning the Hult Prize would give me the perfect opportunity to draw from all of my engineering backgrounds (and it’d particularly give me an opportunity to maximize solar panel efficiency) in a business environment while actually making a measurable positive impact on people,” Lorenz wrote in an email interview.