Texas Tech University

Students to Participate in National Tibetan Innovation Challenge

K'Leigh Sims

June 17, 2015

Five students will compete as a team against other national universities in presenting a business plan for the Tibetan diaspora community.

Tibetan Innovation Challenge

Five Texas Tech University students from different areas of study will compete together in the Tibetan Innovation Challenge (TIC) July 10-11 at the University of Rochester in New York City, where they will present a business plan in front of a panel of judges to help improve the lives of Tibetan refugees in India.

Tibet, located northeast of the Himalayas, was taken over by China in 1950, causing Tibetans to suppress their culture and heritage and adopt the views and ideals of the Chinese. For safety reasons, many Tibetans left their homes near the Himalayas and fled to India and Nepal where they now reside with no homeland to call their own.

In an effort to preserve the Tibetan culture, Texas Tech students Saba Nafees, Benjamin Jarvis, Stephanie DeLeon, Tailor Brown and Caleb Fisher will present their business plan as finalists in front of a panel of judges, competing against the University of Rochester, Syracuse University, Case Western Reserve University, the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the University of Maryland.


Nafees, a mathematical biology doctoral student from Pakistan and vice president of Graduate Affairs for Texas Tech Student Government Association, wanted to compete in the event when she learned about Tibet's history.

“I was watching a film with my father about the Tibetan culture and history, and it made me realize I really wanted to help these people,” Nafees said. “Growing up in Pakistan, we had products from Tibet and I generally knew about the country, but I didn't actually realize what life was like for them. A week later I stumbled across the Tibetan Innovation Challenge put together by the University of Rochester, and I immediately wanted to get involved.”

Nafees contacted Jarvis, DeLeon, Brown and Fisher about the challenge, and they agreed to join in the competition.

Within three days, the team submitted the initial business proposal for the TIC and was the last university accepted for the event. Texas Tech is considered the wild card among the group of universities selected.

The TIC was founded in response to the Dalai Lama's concern for the outflow of young Tibetans leaving their communities in search of employment. The new intercollegiate social entrepreneurship business plan contest hopes to empower Tibetans to take control of their economic futures.


“To see how these people lost their homeland, and how now they're facing being refugees in countries that are not theirs and falling victim to being out-competed in different markets is sad,” Brown said. “They're losing their heritage, their traditions; they have no money, no resources, and how can you continue your heritage if you have no resources? Because of this, I jumped at this opportunity.”

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, 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.

At the national finals of the TIC, high-profile Tibetans, some of whom will be included in the judging panel, will select the winning team. Once the winning team and business plan are chosen, the plans will be provided to the Tibetan community to form new business ventures for Tibetan refugees. The winning team will have the opportunity to travel to India at a later date to meet the people implementing their business plan.

“It's cool coming from the wild card perspective because we will be competing 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.

“We're Red Raiders. We work hard and even though we might be the wild card in this, we're going to do this to the best of our ability.”

All five students also will get a chance to meet the Dalai Lama while at the TIC.