Northeastern students build space for sustainability-minded entrepreneurs

Izabella Pivo posing at the Hult Prize awards with four other people attending the ceremony.
Courtesy Photo

Entrepreneurship is not in short supply at Northeastern — just take a look at the number of organizations in the Mosaic umbrella. But the university has recently been recognized for its new focus on social entrepreneurship.

In September, Northeastern placed second for Program of the Year at the global finals of The Hult Prize, a global social entrepreneurship pitch competition where students come up with startup ideas that solve one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. 

Izabella Pivo, a third-year business and communications major and campus director of the Hult Prize at Northeastern, traveled to Paris to represent the university at the ceremony.

“I think what Northeastern has is really unique,” she said. “It was impactful that (that) was recognized on a global scale. Northeastern is an up-and-coming place for social entrepreneurship.”

This is only the beginning for the school’s focus on social entrepreneurship, Pivo said. She, along with Rohan Surana, a third-year mathematics and business administration with finance major, decided to bring the Hult Prize competition to Northeastern this year after realizing the school had a lot of organizations focused on entrepreneurship and sustainability separately, but none that combined the two areas.

“There’s not a huge social entrepreneurship scene, which is why we brought this to campus,” said Pivo who also founded the student-run Sustainable Innovations Network to help sustainability-focused entrepreneurs. “We saw there was a need and that people wanted to do it.”

Northeastern hosted the Hult Prize’s campus qualifiers this year. Fifteen groups pitched startups based on the Hult Prize theme of sustainable fashion. Students came up with ideas such as a website extension to help sustainable businesses retain customers, creating reusable shoes for nurses to cut down on waste, and making sustainable tampons with recycled cotton.

Five of these went onto the semifinals level of the Hult Prize, Pivo said. From here, the Hult Prize also chose to highlight Northeastern as a notable on-campus program both at a regional and worldwide level.

“(The Hult Prize) really felt like it was a cool initiative for us to be able to build out,” Surana said. “It ensures that the Hult Prize and sustainable entrepreneurship initiatives continue going for years to come, even after we graduate. … It also serves as a very great opportunity for students to work through the stages that can help them take (their ideas) to becoming a reality.” 

Pivo said Northeastern plans to host the local Hult Prize qualifiers again in February. Groups of three to five students from schools around Boston will team up to create a startup focused on sustainable development in hopes of having it advance to the national competition. The theme for this year’s prize is “unlimited” in honor of the competition’s 15th anniversary.

“The goal is to bridge the gap between interdisciplinary backgrounds,” Pivo said. “We’re appealing to majors from the College of Science rather than just the business students or econ students because those are the typical people. We’re really trying to attract those who may not think that they can be an entrepreneur (and help them) see the bridge between social work and business to create something that’s profitable and impactful at the same time.”

Erin Kayata is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at Follow her on X/Twitter @erin_kayata.