Three undergraduates in biology professor Peg Riley’s lab were recently selected to advance to the regional finals for the Hult Prize, the largest student start-up program in the world for early stage social start-up ventures. It recognizes “game-changing social entrepreneurs,” the organizers say.
The three students are senior biochemistry and molecular biology major Mathew Mitchell of Burlington; recent biochemistry and molecular biology grad Griffin O’Driscoll of Northborough; and senior finance major in the Isenberg School of Management Thomas White of Reading. They are the principals of the start-up venture, Organicin Scientific, a company they say “aspires to combat the ‘slow-motion tsunami’ of increasing microbial resistance to antibiotics.” They are developing new proteins called bacteriocins that target the harmful bacteria while avoiding unintended damage to the local microbiome. Bacteriocins are lethal proteins that bacteria have developed as weapons to attack their own closely related competing strains.
Griffin is now a graduate student at Boston University (BU) and entered the Organicin team into the competition from that campus. They competed in BU’s Hult Prize event and were chosen to advance to regionals as that school’s nominee.
Riley, an internationally recognized expert in biological methods of combating antibiotic resistance, says, “It is an incredibly competitive and prestigious award. They will be competing for a $1 million prize in April, with the chance to present at the United Nations in September if they go all the way. I’m extremely proud of them and their accomplishment.”
Before joining the Riley lab, Mitchell mentored underprivileged middle school students as a member of UMass Amherst STEM Ambassadors Program, founded by Riley. In her lab, he began to research bacteriocins as an alternative to antibiotics and was named lab manager.
As an undergraduate, O’Driscoll participated in community service such as bone-marrow drives, raising funds for homeless shelters and trail maintenance/cleanup. He was recently appointed to the executive board of the Graduate Entrepreneurship Club at BU and is now a volunteer at a Boys and Girls Club.
Finance major White has held several leadership positions and internships at the Isenberg School including president of the Investment Club for four semesters. He also worked for the Minutemen Fixed Income Fund (MFIF), and currently serves as a senior advisor to the Investment Club and chairman of the MFIF.
The 2020 Hult Prize Challenge, “Building Startups That Have A Positive Impact On Our Planet with Every Dollar Earned,” was announced by President Bill Clinton at the United Nations in New York earlier this year. In addition to personally announcing the subject challenge that students tackle each year, he provides a first-person perspective on the key issues faced and issues the challenge question that participants address with their start-ups for social good.
The prize is named after Swedish-born billionaire Bertil Hult, a leading entrepreneur in Europe who founded EF Education First, the largest private education company in the world. Hult and his family support the Hult Prize Foundation. In just over a decade, it has deployed more than $100 million and now operates on more than 1,500 college and university campuses in 121 countries.