Student team competes for a million dollars in startup funding

24 July 2019
Soft skills app the key to youth employment
Youth unemployment is in part due to a disconnect between employer's expectations and those of graduates in relation to soft skills such as the ability to think critically, lead and communicate effectively, according to a team of students at the University of Sydney Business School.

The team of three undergraduates will spend the next six weeks in London developing, an app designed to improve the soft skills of job seekers. They will then compete for an opportunity to present their work at the United Nations and to win a million dollars.

Earlier this year, Brent Liang, Elisa Lillicrap and Kirath Singh became the first Australians to advance to the London-based Accelerator Program when they defeated nearly 70 competitor universities in the Dubai regional finals of the global impact challenge, the Hult Prize.

They will be joined in London by about 40 regional winners from around the world including teams from Oxford, Yale and Harvard.

From London, the best of the regional winners will travel to the United Nations in New York where, like gold at the end of the rainbow, one outstanding team will be presented by former US President Bill Clinton with a million dollars in seed money for their product.

"We will use the prize money to grow our app business as fast as possible," said Elisa, a second year Commerce student who at 17 co-founded her own startup. 

We will use the prize money to grow our team, and scale the startup as fast as possible, so that we can maximise our impact among youth worldwide.
Elisa Lillicrap, co-founder and Bachelor of Commerce student

The Hult Prize Foundation, which sponsors the competition with the support of the United Nations and the Clinton Foundation, describes itself as a "global social impact organisation."

"Solving the world's most pressing challenges is not just the right thing to do, it is also good business," said entrepreneur Ahmad Ashkar, who founded the Hult Prize in 2009 to "encourage startup ideas from young people that sustainably solve the world's most critical social challenges."

Today, the Hult Prize is "the world's biggest engine for the launch of for-good, for-profit startups emerging from universities with over 2,500 staff and volunteers around the globe."

Over the past decade, it has injected nearly A$70 million into the startup sector and "mobilised more than one million young people in 100 countries to rethink the future of business."

"As many as 200 thousand teams vie to complete at various levels each year and this year an Australian team is in the top 40 for the first time," said Sydney team member Brent Liang, a fourth year Economics/Law student and a Chancellor's Scholar at the University of Sydney.

The team describes as a "two-sided smart platform using game-based learning and AI technology to develop soft skills among youth and connect them with employers."

"Research shows that soft skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking are valued by employers above any other STEM or hard skill," said Elisa.

"Significant high rates of youth unemployment around the world are symptoms of a social failure," explains Kirath Singh, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Advanced Computing degree majoring in Computer Science and Finance. "Youth worldwide lack the '21st century skills' such as problem-solving, communication, teamwork and critical thinking to get hired."

"We are taking elements of gamification/game-based learning and combining them with mobile and internet technology to teach soft skills effectively and on a much bigger scale," says Brent. 

We are taking elements of gamification/game-based learning and combining them with mobile and internet technology to teach soft skills effectively and on a much bigger scale.
Brent Liang, co-founder and Bachelor of Economics/Bachelor of Laws student

"It is about being creative with what's being done by educators and encouraging youth worldwide to learn differently," says Brent.

The Sydney team has tested the demand for online soft skills training in developing countries and members are now in discussions with professional services firms across India, Singapore and Australia.

The Dean of the Business School, Professor Greg Whitwell, has congratulated the team on its success so far and wished it the best of luck in London.

"The members of this team are committed to using the skills gained at the Business School to improve the lives of others," Professor Whitwell said. "In doing so they have clearly taken our vision of 'business not as usual' to heart."

Related articles