Justin Diaz ’23, College of Engineering and Computer Science, and founder of EcoBamboo Living, was selected one of the top six teams in the Hult Prize Toronto global regionals by a review committee led by Hult Prize CEO Ahmad Ashkar. The annual competition is considered the Nobel Prize of impact entrepreneurship, attracting more than 300,000 students from universities around the world. More than 5,000 students compete in regional summits, held in major international cities on every geographic region of the world. Teams compete in a big bold challenge meant to inspire and enable the world’s brightest college minds to solve its greatest problems. This year’s challenge was climate change and sustainability.
Because of COVID-19, regional summits moved to virtual competitions this year. Diaz created a compelling submission that was extremely heartfelt. Beyond addressing the components of a typical competition – the problem, solution, target market, business model, path to market, and strategic partners – he infused the presentation with humanity based on his own experience. “As a young boy, my mom and I weren’t able to afford adequate housing, leaving us hopeless for a while. This is why it has become my aspiration to give everyone a place to call home.”
EcoBamboo Living is an innovative construction company that designs and builds building affordable, beautiful and sustainable buildings for the residential and commercial sector. Using bamboo rather than conventional timber offers many advantages. It is as strong as steel or concrete, can be grown and harvested faster and more sustainably than hardwoods, is more affordable, and tackles deforestation and climate change through creating a positive carbon footprint. Bamboo is a building material used in southeast Asia with proven results, including withstanding earthquakes and hurricanes, but there no is bamboo design and construction company in the United States.
He is already working with Syracuse-based advisors architect Pete King of King + King Architects and commercial real estate developer Steve Case on plans for his first bamboo “tiny home” as a demonstration project. From there, he plans to develop a line of affordable modular homes constructed with bamboo timber.
Diaz is only a freshman, but has already won top prizes in campus competitions, working with the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at SU Libraries. He is also preparing to compete as a finalist in the energy and environment category of the New York Business Plan Competition on May 1. He recently won the Hunter Brooks Watson Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award, funded by the Hunter Brooks Watson Memorial Fund, which was coordinated by the LaunchPad.
“Being part of the Hult Prize and being selected as one of the top six teams at the Toronto regional competition, shows me the potential this idea has moving through my next three years in college,” says Diaz. “I feel blessed to be in the position to showcase not just my business, but my university, and the LaunchPad in the Hult Prize. I enjoyed the virtual presentation because it allowed me to be more creative and inspirational. Participating in a live competition can be challenging, but a video gave me time to prepare, and the opportunity to share in a more personal way my vision and mission.”
Diaz recognized his team members, Syracuse University students Virkin Jimenez and Serena Winter, along with his mentors and advisors. “The LaunchPad family believed in me from the start, when I first walked in the doors as an incoming freshman, even before school started. They embraced me and invited me to be part of Startup Weekend last fall where I came up with this idea and developed an entire new circle of friends who shared my entrepreneurial passion. Then, they continued to guide me in the right direction. Without the LaunchPad, I wouldn’t be where I am. The culture there gave me the energy, motivation and inspiration to keep challenging myself, supported by guidance from that community.”
The Regional Summits provide students from around the world an opportunity to showcase their innovative ideas, learn from their peers and be inspired by a generation of young people who are committed to changing the world through business. The winner of each regional summit receives an invitation to attend the 2020 Hult Prize Global Accelerator and to compete for the $1 million Hult grand prize.
The teams selected as the Toronto top six included:
- Syracuse University – EcoBamboo Living
- Faculty Polydisciplinary Of Khouribga – SmartGarden
- Jordan University of Science and Technology – Amtea
- University of Maryland – Hydraze
- Rutgers Business School – SeaWe
- Tec de Monterrey, Zona CDMX-Centro-Sur – LIMU
The Hult Prize is celebrating its first decade. As a Hult International Business School MBA student, Ashkar founded a company 2009 to give his then peers around the world a platform to have sustainable, profitable impact with a focus on the creation of a new kind of business which was dubbed, “the impact enterprise.” Later, working with Bertil Hult, the Hult Prize Foundation was born, which is the considered the world’s most acclaimed social entrepreneurship program.