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Last weekend, I had the privilege and honor to be a guest judge for the Open Track of the President's Innovation Challenge at the Harvard Innovation Labs. The Innovation Challenge aims to support Harvard students on their journeys to turn their desire for a
better world into a sustainable venture. Specifically, this year's finalists are trying to solve social issues (equitability, sustainability, safety), to respond to the desperate need for innovation within the health and life sciences industry, and to innovate in other areas that
would help a cross section of industries such as computing.

The Open Track "Ideas that Can Change the World'

The new venture track I joined was focused around the opportunities to make the world work sustained by a commercial enterprise. The entrepreneurs shared in common the belief that greater economic opportunity in society cannot be realized without improvements in fundamental connectivity, infrastructure and better resource optimization, and the specific sub-categories included: Sports, Technology, Security, Consumer Products, Virtual & Augmented Reality Applications.

Here are the five finalist groups who presented for us:

  • AirCrew - Making advanced air-purification systems accessible globally by scaling up novel catalytic materials designed with nanoscale precision.
  • Impact Labs - Helmet add-on's that reduce damaging impact forces to the brain from head-to-head combat in sports.
  • Lightmatter - Developing a new computing model that pushes data faster through
  • Shuflix - A Magic 8 Ball for spontaneous events and undiscovered places in users'
  • The Wolfe - Making virtual reality accessible wherever users want it by supercharging laptops through a new storage and processing device.

The judges represented a blue ribbon team of professors, tech entrepreneurs, and businesses executives that collectively represent over a 100 years of new ventures experiences and were well suited to discuss significant next-gen ideas across industries. As each team was given 10 minutes to present and answer questions, we were impressed by the incredibly ambitious ideas and novel approaches to solving some of the world's biggest challenges. From next generation computing power and low-cost techniques for managing carbon emissions and making the world a safer place, each team is vying for prize money to build out their patented prototypes and begin building their visions at-scale.

Intentional Exploration for Change: It's a Journey

As we witnessed an impressive range of young entrepreneurs, engineering PhD's, and business school and undergraduate students, we saw that they each share in common a commitment to making a "dent in the world,' ranging from from novel to transformational.

My top takeaway here? You don't have to go to Harvard to
have good ideas or start a business.

All you need is the courage to pursue your dreams and the commitment to get started. For example, most of the entrepreneurs we judged described their epiphanies as incremental, rather than instantaneous. Those interested in solving the world's problems recognize that learning isn't a passive process, but an active process through intentional exploration. It is clear you do not just jump; instead, you have to be intentional about driving discovery and lean-in with an intelligent direction, and a disciples process of application and self discovery.

I've found that most successful people who make great strides to change the world actually stumble across their solution over time; they learn through trial and error and eventually uncover a solution or idea through the journey.

If you're interested in changing the world but don't know where to begin, don't wait around for an idea to come to you. Much like the entrepreneurs of the Harvard i-Labs, you must continuously move in the direction of the problem you're trying to solve, and I promise you'll find your breakthrough.

For more information on the President's Innovation Challenge Award Ceremony on May 9th, click here.