November 17, 2022
When most teenagers are worrying about getting into college, Muhammad Saleem Zafar was focused on entrepreneurship and making the world a better place. He was 15 years old and still a high school student in Dubai when he first participated in the Hult Prize. Today, he consults fellow students at Jacobs University Bremen to compete in the prestigious competition.
Making the world a better place through social entrepreneurship - that is the idea behind the Hult Prize. The "Nobel Prize for Students" is awarded by the Hult Prize Foundation in partnership with the United Nations. The theme changes every year. The best team wins one million US Dollars to kick-start their social venture. When Saleem first participated as a high school student, he won third place with a topic related to sustainable energy.
Students from 120 countries participate in the competition and teams can qualify for the final by passing several elimination rounds. The first round closes at the end of November, and three teams from Jacobs University could qualify for the next stage. "I am sure fantastic ideas will be presented," Saleem said. The 23-year-old is director of the student club related to the Hult Prize here at Jacobs University, it oversees the renowned start-up challenge. This year’s theme is “Redesigning Fashion” and aims to make clothing production more sustainable.
What is it that excites Saleem about the Hult Prize? The themes are aligned with the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Also, the international nature of the competition is very important to him. "It creates a network of students from very different backgrounds and serves as a platform for their ideas. They can directly apply what they have learned in their studies," said Saleem. With his entrepreneurial mindset, he founded a consulting company for the oil and gas industry in Dubai directly after high school.
As a student at Jacobs University, he participated in the Hult Prize with Foodease. The start-up developed a digital marketplace for surplus and perishable food that brought together traders, producers, chefs and other consumers when Corona hit. The project was very successful in Pakistan, his home country.
Saleem also serves as director of the Google Developer Student Club (GDSC) at Jacobs University. "The Hult Prize and GDSC complement each other as both are committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And if the teams need technical support, the GDSC provides it."
The cricket enthusiast came to Bremen thanks to a friend who already studied at the University of Bremen. He introduced Saleem to Jacobs University, leaving him impressed with the institution’s internationality and study programs. "The population in Dubai consists of 95 percent expatriate residents, so you meet people from all over the world when living there. It's similar at Jacobs University, so I immediately felt at home," stated Saleem. The weather also helped him settling in faster. "In the summer, it gets very hot in Dubai, up to 50 degrees Celsius. That's when you learn to appreciate the mild temperatures and fresh air in Bremen."
Saleem is now in his third year of Industrial Engineering & Management. Since the Corona regulations kept him from traveling for a long time, he is now making up for it with hiking in the Harz mountains, or taking city trips. He particularly likes the city of Leiden in the Netherlands. What place does he call home? "I was born in Pakistan, but grew up in Dubai and moved around several times in the Gulf States, always traveling a lot. To me, home is not a place, but a connection to people," said Saleem.
Currently, he visits Berlin often, as he is interning at Collective Ace Group: a fast-growing start-up in the gaming industry. Exploring expansion opportunities for the company in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South America is his job. Saleem is also looking at supply chains in the gaming industry, which, unlike conventional industry, has no physical products. Instead, a team with a diverse skill-set must come together in order to be successful.
Saleem will complete his bachelor's degree next summer. He wants to stay connected to Germany, but where and for whom he will work is still open. It is likely that he will remain in the start-up world and work for Collective Ace Group. This, he can do from anywhere; the exact location does not really matter much anymore.
This text is part of the series "Faces of Jacobs", in which Jacobs University introduces students, alumni, professors, and employees. Further episodes can be found at www.jacobs-university.de/face