MONTREAL – It was a moment of triumph for a group of McGill University students, who won a $1 million prize for social entrepreneurship handed out by Bill Clinton.
But the moment was more bitter than sweet for one student.
He was forced to watch from a distance, via Internet webcast, as his former allies rubbed shoulders with the former U.S. president.
Jakub Dzamba claims he was intellectually robbed.
Dzamba, a McGill University student, who is still involved in a dispute with the five-member MBA winning team, says it was sad to watch from afar as the group won the 2013 Hult competition grand prize for a nutrition project.
“It would have been really nice to get to meet Bill Clinton,” Dzamba said Tuesday in an interview. “That was kind of a dream.”
The Hult competition is described on its website as the world’s largest student competition to solve social challenges, like helping to feed the urban poor. Winners use the prize money as seed capital, and get mentorship and advice from the international business community.
More than 10,000 students, representing more than 150 countries around the world, usually take part.
This year’s challenge was to create a social enterprise that can secure food for undernourished communities, particularly for the 200 million people who live in urban slums.
The winning project by the team from McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management involves the production, processing and promotion of insects for human consumption.
According to a recent report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, insects are eaten by more than 2 billion people worldwide.
Team members received the award from the 42nd U.S. president in New York City on Monday night.
Dzamba, who was watching a webcast on his computer, says he worked with the team — and it was his slides and his presentation that were initially used when it won the semi-finals.
But then, he says, the team severed ties with him, took credit for his work, and hasn’t offered compensation.
“They ended up taking credit for my work and didn’t compensate me in any way for my work,” Dzamba said, pointing out that he helped get the team to the finals.
“The team removed the technology that I created for them, removed all the graphics I did and they hired new people to do new technology and new things for them which is OK, I guess, but I was the guy they relied on to get them through the semi-finals.”
He says a group of McGill associate deans and a commercialization officer got involved and decided that the team should pay him $5,300 for the work he had done.
But there was a dispute over a release statement, which he called a “gag order,” and it was never signed.
The 31-year-old Dzamba says he first started working on the idea of using insects for food at the University of Toronto in 2009 and got into a PhD program at McGill to work specifically on developing insect farming.
The university says it’s “enormously proud” of the winning team, and of the other students hoping to change the world for the better.
In a statement, McGill vice-principal Olivier Marcil said the university has investigated the matter, proposed a resolution, and still hopes for a settlement.
Marcil said that in a university environment many ideas bubble up at the same time and, while there are occasional conflicts, much of the time those ideas reinforce each other and wind up helping people.
He said McGill has verified that the Hult presentation does not include any reference to the portable cricket farm designed by Dzamba.
The winning team also issued a statement on the dispute.
“As of mid-March 2013 we ceased using any of Jakub’s contributions,” it said. “We provided the university with the slide-deck of the final presentation for the Hult Prize and they have confirmed it does not include any reference to the portable cricket farm design described in the provisional patent application filed by the university (with Mr. Jakub Dzamba as sole inventor).
“It is our intention to compensate Jakub for his work as a past consultant and we are happy to give him credit for this contribution (though these contributions were not a factor in our regional win and were not included in our final presentation). We applaud any initiatives whose aim it is to alleviate world hunger and help make our world a better place.”