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They Had A Million Dollar Idea About Better Day Care In Urban Slums

Before they won the Hult Prize, team IMPCT raised funds to build a day-care center in El Salvador with a Montessori-style curriculum. And parents only have to pay $2 a day.

You can't blame Taylor Scobbie for being nervous. His team was a finalist for the $1 million Hult Prize.

The challenge — issued by the Clinton Global Initiative and the Hult Prize Foundation last September — was for undergraduates or MBA students to design a project that would provide quality education to 10 million children under age six in urban slums by 2020. There were six teams that made it through to the last round, chosen from more than 20,000 applicants.

Each team had eight minutes to present its project to a panel of judges that included Nobel Laureate Muhammed Yunus and the former prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard.

The ideas were impressive: a laundry center that doubles as a library where parents and children in South Africa can learn together while their washing is done; or "talking stickers" to put on household items so a low-cost hand-held electronic scanning device can make the objects talk, sing and read to children.

Team IMPCT's idea is to find investors who can help improve informal day care centers in urban slums, adding more educational efforts and increasing enrollment. The process will also turn local caregivers into small business owners who operate a franchise of sorts.

Last Saturday night at a midtown Manhattan hotel, it was time to find out who would take home the prize. Scobbie and his three teammates held hands. "I had used up all my nervousness days ago," says Scobbie, a 29-year-old from National Chengchi University in Taiwan. "My body had no more nervous chemicals to use."

Then Bill Clinton announced the winner: team IMPCT.

"One of the most important characteristics we look for in a winner is 'is this executable?'" said Ahmad Ashkar, founder and CEO of the Hult Prize. "I'm going to give you a check tomorrow, are you ready to go into business? They proved they were ready."

In fact, they'd already set up a center before they won the prize. In the lead-up to the final presentation this past weekend, the six Hult Prize finalists — each winner of smaller college and regional competitions — attended six weeks of entrepreneurial seminars in July and August hosted by the Hult International Business School. At the conclusion of the program, finalists were given a month to test run their ideas in the real world and gather convincing evidence they were worth funding.

IMPCT went a step further. In between the seminars and the awards ceremony, the team raised $58,000 on Indiegogo and built a center in La Cuchilla, El Salvador with the help of TECHO, an NGO that specializes in transitional housing in Latin America. They chose a caregiver in the community who already ran a business watching four children a day, and trained her, with the help of another local NGO, the Hilda Rothschild Foundation, to learn about Montessori style education.

On day one of the center's opening, September 14, there were 20 students. Even with the new building and new curriculum, the center didn't raise its rates — it was still $2 a day.

The caregiver, investors and IMPCT will divvy up the profits, which Scobbie estimates will be about $4,000 in the first year. The caregiver would receive $1,000 in addition to a salary she is paid by IMPCT throughout the year, IMPCT would receive another $1,000, and any investors will split the rest.

Juan Diego Prudot, another member of the team, says that IMPCT will continue to look for mothers in communities who run small, informal businesses to take charge of the new centers.

In Latin America, where IMPCT currently focuses most of their efforts, informal day care centers run by mothers are common — Scobbie estimates there are over 200,000. "Parents in urban slums that have small children need somewhere to put them so they can go to work," he says. "Informal day care is a community-generated solution. If parents are paying for this anyway, the thought was: let's make [the centers] bigger and slide early childhood education in through the back door," said Scobbie.

To gather capital to construct these centers, IMPCT is developing a web platform, Playcare, that will introduce potential investors to the caregivers and the communities they serve. On average, each project will take $8,000 to get off the ground.

IMPCT will use their Hult Prize funds to open up offices, hire more staff, start at least six more pilot schools like the one in El Salvador and expand their efforts to Taiwan, the Philippines and India. Along the way they will rely on the varied skill sets of its members — all classmates in business school who previously did not have a direct interest in early childhood education but decided to collaborate after the Hult Prize theme for 2015 was announced.

Prudot, originally from Honduras is a software engineer by trade. Scobbie, from Canada, studied finance and philosophy. An-Nung Chen, 29 of Taiwan has a background in operations and Andres Escobar, 29, of El Salvador, a background in telecommunications, graphics and branding. "We complement each other," said Scobbie. He said were it not for the Hult Prize, the four of them might not have previously worked together or launched a venture like IMPCT.

"It really changes the trajectory of people's career," he said. "It gives you a focus and a reason to care about that focus." And though Scobbie said each member is proud to have won the award, ultimately, they said the real prize is finding a mission to devote themselves to.

"Meeting Bill Clinton and winning a million dollars felt amazing," said Scobbie. "But the feeling when we went into school the first day [earlier this month] and saw kids learning that wouldn't have had the opportunity otherwise, felt even better."

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