If you live in the tech world and ever wonder whether your industry matters — not make-first-world-living-even-easier matters but, like, save-the-world matters — then you should meet the startup team at Pulse Savings in Cambridge.
This quintet of Hult International Business School students is on a mission to end hunger in some of the world’s poorest slums with a mobile money saving service that helps people ensure that their meager wages are spent on food. Sounds ridiculously simple, until you learn that in parts of India, for instance, it is common practice for food vendors to offer non-cash items as change for purchases.
“Vendors often give customers candy or small shampoo bottles or other items that the customers don’t want,’’ explained Pulse co-founder Niketa Malhotra, an India native. “So the customer is looking for his money back, but he’s getting some product that he doesn’t need instead.’’
With the Pulse system, the vendor keeps the change and issues store credit to the customer’s Pulse food savings account, via text message. Customers can also buy Pulse cards of varying cash values and deposit the money in their accounts with text codes.
In a pilot program, 25 Indian women increased their families’ food budgets by 12 percent — enough to pay for an average of 14 more meals per month.
The idea has Malhotra and her partners — Saul Minkoff, Mandy Vidalis, Karl Oskar Teien and Charles Ojei — on the cusp of winning $1 million in funding. Out of 300 entrants, Pulse Savings is one of six finalists for a cash prize to be given jointly by the Hult Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative next month.
Gregg D. Bauer, a partner at Spinnaker Venture Partners of Quincy and the team’s mentor for the competition, said he has no doubt about the final result.
“They’re going to walk away with the million dollars,’’ he said. “This is a sharp bunch with a really, really interesting business. And I’ve seen a lot of them.’’