Forty-five teams competed for $15,000 last night in the final round of MIT’s Innovation, Development, Enterprise, Action and Service (IDEAS) Competition, spelling out their vision to make the world a better place. The annual competition focuses on innovation in the realm of public service. Teams entered projects in fields ranging from health care and education to food production, with many focusing on the challenges of world poverty and international development.
“I’m really excited by the diversity in the types of projects this year,” said Raj Melville MBA ’77, a returning judge from the Deshpande Foundation. “There’s definitely a lot of energy and potential here.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the MIT’s IDEAS Competition, and the first year of the MIT Global Challenge, which was created by the Public Service Center and the MIT Alumni Association as a tie-in to MIT150. One of the new features of the MIT Global Challenge allows registered users to vote for their favorite teams online, with the top five teams receiving $5000 each. The two competitions will reward up to $150,000 in funding to the various winning teams. This year, turnout was up 20 percent from previous years, according to Kate Mytty, program coordinator.
Many teams were excited about the opportunities the competitions offered.
“The IDEAS Competition is awesome,” said Archit N. Bhise ’13 of InnoHealth, “It’s a great opportunity to get feedback, and with the funding, we can go back to India and deploy our project in more places to really get it working.” InnoHealth is a partnership with the Indian NGO Society for Nutrition, Education, and Health Action (SNEHA) to develop a web-based system to efficiently direct hospital patients to the best facility for their needs in Mumbai, India.
Coyin Oh ’14, a member of GrubCycle, said, “I really liked that the competition gives us a chance to create something from prototype to full implementation. It’s really neat to start something and follow it from the beginning to the end.” GrubCycle is a project that seeks to create a waste management system in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and empower local entrepreneurs at the same time. “The idea is that local entrepreneurs can earn money by collecting waste, feed it to the worms, and then sell the pupae to factories that will turn it into animal feed,” Oh explained. “We calculate that a person can earn up to $8/day, which is pretty significant increase from their previous earnings,” she said.
Other teams focused on topics like food production and education. Straw Chopper — a group working on a machine that will allow farmers in India to more easily supplement their income through the production of mushrooms — hopes the IDEAS Competition will allow them to put their idea to the test.
“We just started this project 5–6 weeks ago, and it’d be really great if we could make a working prototype, get it to India and show people how to use it,” Lusann W. Yang G, a project member, said.
Aakriti Shroff ’13, of the Indian Mobile Initiative — a project that will teach Android programming and entrepreneurship to university students in India — was also enthusiastic about her team’s project. “India is right on the cusp of innovation, and being right in the middle of it with the students is really exciting. We want to get feedback through this competition and just spread the word about our project.”
Each team pitches their plan to 3–5 judges, who rank the project based on three criteria: innovation, feasibility and impact.
“We want people to think about a problem in a new way and really have a catch-all ‘aha’ factor, a gut sense of novelty,” said Lars H. Torres, Program Administrator of the IDEAS and Global Challenge.
“These projects need to have a significant social or environmental impact,” Melville said, “We ask, ‘Will it make a real difference, and do the teams have a well thought-out plan?’”
The final decision of the winners is then made by the core staff and competition sponsors. The top five teams in the community voting competition will also receive $5000 each.