Monday evening, while millions of Americans tuned in to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football, I watched a slightly different kind of competition that showcased the potential to touch the lives of millions in a way much more impactful than a touchdown.
Taking place beneath the shadow of the Space Needle in the heart of Seattle, an inspiring duel of social entrepreneurs called the Social Innovation Fast Pitch was hosted by Social Venture Partners and supported by Microsoft, Ashoka, Microsoft Alumni Foundation, Aditi among others.
From high school students to collegiate innovators and seasoned business veterans -- I watched 14 different visionaries pitch their idea to change the world, in front of a packed crowd of more than 600 people, with a mere 5 minutes to gain their vote, and mine, as a judge for prizes worth $100,000.
At the start of the event, I was up on stage with a panel of esteemed judges who were all given 30 seconds to offer advice to the presenters. The judges, from many different backgrounds, explained that they would be looking for sustainable business plans, passion for the concept, proper budgeting to propel the idea, and much more valuable advice. I expressed to the presenters that I would like to see two things:
1) Originality in identifying the problem you wish to address as a social innovator
2) Originality in the solution you create to solve the problem as a social entrepreneur
You see, there are many ideas in this world and it is important for me to find a team that knows what it takes to make their ideas work. Commitment to be there for the long run is key and the ability to face repeated rejections and yet have the courage to keep moving forward. The entire group that was presenting showed me they had the staying power to make their ideas work. The two high school student presentations were the most impressive (SIFF, Money Sense) and the overall talent in the room was just plain scary. To see folks this young have the determination to pitch their ideas to a full room.
As a judge, my time was spent deliberating over the impressive group of candidates to deliver a just vote for one of the 14 extremely hard-working teams. The categories included high school student groups, university student groups, for-profit groups and not-for-profit groups. The innovative solutions ranged from solving childhood obesity to minority procurement for government contracts to bio diesel research labs as a way to create sustainability within universities. As I considered a potential winner amongst the judging panel, our social media manager, Nathan, went out collecting a few 30 second pitches for you to see as an example of the tremendous talent filling the room. Here are a few:
Viva Farms was presented by Ethan Schaffer and received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the crowd, winning audience choice for both "Best Fast Pitch" and "Most Innovative" as well as an additional $30,000 for the "Social Venture Partners Award."
Jon Botten had perhaps the most polished pitch on stage, so we decided to get his 30 second pitch, be sure to check out Dynamic Partners who won the "Zino Society Award"
The "Social Endeavors Award" went to Jolkona for their unique microgiving and reporting platform that helps nonprofits crowdsource funds online.
I was proud to present the "Microsoft Award for Social Innovation", a $10k prize, to Flash Volunteer, a company that provides online tools to create, discover, and easily share community service opportunities via social media, mobile and a unique crowd sourcing tool.
Among the stiff competition, one team won the grand prize of a $50,000 investment from the SIFP Seattle Fund: Food N' Me. Food N' Me is an effective nutrition system that changes eating behaviors in children and families utilizing the latest technologies to teach fundamental nutritional concepts to an increasingly tech savvy generation of students.
Congratulations to all of the teams! You can see the entire list of winners and their concepts here.
Pretty innovative ideas right? Check them out and let me know your favorite on Twitter or in the comments below!
Follow Akhtar Badshah on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msftcitizenship