Team from Texas Tech Wins Tibetan Innovation Challenge

The five students will have a chance to travel to India to see their business plan implemented for more than 105,000 Tibetan refugees living in India and Nepal.

Tibetan Innovation Challenge

A team of Texas Tech University students took first place for their presentation on how to preserve Tibetan heritage and culture at the Tibetan Innovation Challenge (TIC) held Friday at the Tibet House U.S. in New York City.

The team of Saba Nafees, Benjamin Jarvis, Stephanie DeLeon, Tailor Brown and Caleb Fisher bested five other teams from across the U.S. in presenting a business plan that would help ensure the economic future of Tibetans after their homeland was taken over by China 55 years ago.

Texas Tech was considered the wild card team among the group of universities selected based on the fact it was the last one of the six accepted. By winning the TIC, the team from Texas Tech will have a chance to travel to India, where many Tibetans fled after the Chinese takeover, to meet the people and see their plan being put into action.

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“It feels unreal, but winning wasn’t the goal,” said Nafees, a mathematical biology doctoral student from Pakistan and vice president of Graduate Affairs for the Texas Tech Student Government Association. “We will win when we actually implement the plan which we have started to work on already. True triumph is when we see the lives of the Tibetans changing and the spiritus uplifting.”

Tibet, located northeast of India and Nepal just across the Himalayas, was taken over by China in 1950. Tibetans were forced to accept the Chinese views and ideals while suppressing their own culture. Many Tibetans fled their homes near the Himalayas and settled in India and Nepal, where today an estimated 105,715 refugees live.


The Tibetan Innovation Challenge was founded after the Dalai Lama expressed concern over the number of young Tibetans who were forced to flee their homeland in search of jobs. Many Tibetan refugees face tremendous economic hardship, and the TIC aims to empower Tibetans to seize control of their economic futures with self-sustaining business ideas through a new intercollegiate social entrepreneurship business plan contest.

The Texas Tech team, along with teams from the University of Rochester, Syracuse University, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the University of Maryland, presented their business plans to a panel of judges, which included Kaydor Aukatsang, the representative of the Dalai Lama to North America, Thubten Samdup, the former representative of the Dalai Lama to Northern Europe, and Lobsang Nyandak, the executive director of the Tibet Fund Trustee to the Dalai Lama Trust based in the U.S.

Students also had a chance to meet the Dalai Lama himself at the TIC, and Nafees hopes to meet His Holiness again when they travel to India at a later date.


“We are proud of our Texas Tech students for winning the Tibetan Innovation Challenge in New York,” Texas Tech President M. Duane Nellis said. “Our students are working hard to reach out to others internationally through research, hard work and diligence. Congratulations to the Texas Tech team for winning such a prestigious competition.”

Each team member had a specific role in the planning aspect for the challenge. Nafees, who also is a One Young World ambassador, helped mold the business plan with her entrepreneurship skills and international perspective. Jarvis, a Texas Tech graduate and entrepreneur with a master’s degree in mass communications, and Fisher, an MBA student and external vice president of the Texas Tech Student Government Association, provided experience with media, marketing and business-thinking skills. DeLeon and Brown, both Texas Tech graduates with a bachelor’s of science in biology, did in-depth research for the business plan as they undergraduate career consisted mainly of research.

“It’s cool coming from the wild card perspective because we competed at such a prestigious level,” Fisher said. “The students, faculty, staff and leadership here at Texas Tech represent something really unique and awesome, and ultimately it shows we really work hard for our achievements.”