05 Dec 2018 12:00:00 PM

Four university students had an idea to end world hunger. This is what happened next.

This year, a team of four undergraduate students, co-founded by 21-year-old Malaysian Biomedicine student, Lincoln Lee, won the prestigious annual US$1mil Hult Prize, the world’s biggest global start-up programme for student entrepreneurs. 

TalentCorp was honoured to be part of the group’s journey to victory. Now a registered company called Rice Inc, the group tell us about their journey since winning the prize.
(From left to right): ) Kisum Chan (Hong Kong), Lincoln Lee (Malaysia), Julia Vannaxay (Laos) and Vannie Koay (Malaysia) after being declared the winner by former US President Bill Clinton at the 9th Annual UN Hult Prize Global Finals & Awards Gala at the United Nations, New York on September 15, 2018.

The idea was simple: Hundreds of millions of tons of rice are wasted each year. What happens if this wastage is reduced? 
There’ll be more food and produce to sell. It could potentially empower farmers and possibly be a solution to world hunger. 

And what if this idea was pitched at the annual Hult Prize, the world’s largest start-up challenge for student entrepreneurs? Since its inception, 2.1 million college and university students from around the world had competed for the Hult Prize which has created 200,000 social enterprises.

The idea, powered by the US$1mil prize money, could literally change the world. 

Thus, team SunRice was born. The group, then made up of University of London students Lincoln Li, Vannie Koay (Malaysia), Kisum Chan (Hong Kong) and Julia Vannaxay (Laos), came up with the idea to improve harvesting practices and making rice drying technology more accessible.

Lincoln Lee at a village in Myanmar.
After a summer spent living, working, learning and playing with 200 other student entrepreneurs in the former residence of Henry the VII just north of London, the group stepped up on stage at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to present their idea.

And then, it happened: Former US President Bill Clinton declared SunRice winners of the 9th annual Hult Prize.
The team, who went out to form the registered company Rice Inc, spoke to us about their journey:
Kisum Chan helping out with the building of the foundation of Rice Inc’s very first pilot hub in Gyeopinsakhan village, Myanmar.

How does it feel to win the Hult Prize? What was your reaction to the win?

It felt extremely surreal. When Bill Clinton first announced our name, we were hit by waves of emotions: shock, giddiness, joy and even a bit of relief. It was a year-long journey with thousands of hours put in by the team. We’re extremely grateful and humbled that we were chosen out of all the great ideas and start-ups showcased that night. We’re also really excited as we knew that it wasn’t the end but only just the beginning. 
From left to right: Klára Höllgeová (Czech Republic) and Julia Vannaxay (Laos) in the fields of Letpadan, Myanmar, helping farmers plant rice seedlings.

Why did the group choose to work on rice?

Most of us are from a strong South-east Asian background - we chose to look into something we all had in common and were a big part of our lives - rice!

What does Rice Inc hope to achieve as an organisation?

As a social enterprise, the root of what we do is to tackle food insecurity and poverty caused by wastage in the rice supply chain. As an organisation, these values drive the decisions that we make, and we are committed to always making a positive impact with every venture we undertake.
We hope that Rice Inc can also encourage other entrepreneurs, young or old, anywhere in the world, to join us in taking bold steps to create long-lasting social change to solve the world’s biggest problems.
Most of us are from a strong South-east Asian background - we chose to look into something we all had in common and were a big part of our lives - rice!"
Construction workers building the foundation of Rice Inc’s very first pilot hub in Gyeopinsakhan village, Myanmar.

What is Rice Inc’s plans with the prize money?

We are strengthening our business model and running our pilot in Myanmar as we speak. After the first harvest, we will finalise the model and replicate it in other villages in the country. Following that, we are also aiming to introduce our very own rice brand, which is our most exciting step forward yet!
The team with villagers in Myanmar.

What issues concern your group the most?

Presently, it’s still a challenge for us to be there in Myanmar, on call. It is also more time-consuming to work off-site. We are also aware that as current undergraduates, we lack practical experiences in the corporate world. We can’t deny that expertise in certain areas such as the law or the technology would allow us to work more efficiently. That is why the advice and mentorship of experienced people, who have kindly given up some of their time to support us, is so integral to us. 

What would you say to youth or young entrepreneurs who desire to change the world?

The one thing we would advise young entrepreneurs to do is to jump at opportunities. Kisum and Lincoln were just classmates who were interested in a competition held in their university. They found team members at a social and prepared their campus round pitch in 8 days. None of them had any background in agriculture or tech. 

No one really believed we were very serious in the beginning, but as you strive, stumble and push on, people will start to take notice. 

 All this culminated in us winning the Hult Prize. It opened up doors we could never have imagined in our wildest dreams. So, if you’re a young entrepreneur or a youth who desire to change the world, we’re here to tell you to not stop dreaming. 
The Rice Inc team at the International Rice Research Institute, Yangon, Myanmar. (From left to right): Lincoln Lee (Malaysia), Loh Rachel (Malaysia), Klára Höllgeová (Czech Republic), Julia Vannaxay (Laos), Vannie Koay (Malaysia), San Wen Ngei (Malaysia) and Kisum Chan (Hong Kong).

Rice Inc members:
1. Lincoln Lee, 21, Chief Executive Officer 
2. Kisum Chan, 20, Chief Business Development Officer
3. Vannie Koay, 22, Chief Financial Officer
4. Ngei San Wen, 20, Chief Compliance & Communications Officer
5. Klara Hollgeova, 23, Chief Operations Officer (Impact)
6.  Loh Rachel, 21, Chief Operations Officer (Enterprise)

For more information about the Hult Prize visit http://www.hultprize.org/