I just returned from an extraordinary convocation in San Francisco last week. The event was the 2012 Innovation Summit for the Spirit of Innovation Challenge hosted by the Conrad Foundation.
What made it extraordinary was the high caliber of innovative talent on display at the Summit. Creative problem-solving teams from some of the best high schools in the USA (and one from the Isle of Man) convened to present their innovative solutions to problems in the areas of aerospace exploration, clean energy, and health & nutrition. Each team presented on stage to a panel of industry experts which then engaged each team in questions and answers.
Some of the innovative solutions included using phase change crystals to maintain body temperature in astronaut suits, piezo-electric collagen fibers to capture electricity while people danced in ballrooms, Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) to convert walking movement into electricity for cell phones, bicycle wheel inner tubes as peristaltic pumps to desalinate seawater for human consumption.
Unlike for science fairs, these teams needed to address both the technology as well as the business dimensions of their solutions. Unlike for robotics competitions, these teams needed to define their own problem to solve after navigating in a vast ocean of possibilities. After having participated for many years as a coach and judge for science fairs and robotics competitions, I have come to appreciate the holistic approach offered by the Spirit of Innovation challenge. It is one degree closer to the real world.
Innovation is a priority at the corporate and national level.Â In our hyper-competitive globally connected economy, those who can innovate more effectively will thrive, be they individuals, organizations, or entire countries. Â The Spirit of Innovation Challenge is an annual competition that challenges high school students to integrate STEM with business and entrepreneurship skills to develop commercially-viable, technology-based products that address real-world issues. It challenges them to innovate at a very high level.
The participants also enjoyed â€śfireside chatsâ€ť with rock stars of the technology world such as Vint Cerf (one of the inventors of the internet), Rickson Sun (Chief Technologist for IDEO), and Rusty Schweickart (Apollo Astronaut). In this culture of â€śuber-geeksâ€ť, everyone is inspired to raise his/her game. In fact, the motto of the Spirit of Innovation Challenge is â€śGet Your Genius Onâ€ťâ„˘
Over the next week, Iâ€™ll interview some of the youth participants and their coaches regarding their experience participating in Spirit of Innovation Challenge. Iâ€™ll attempt to discover what drives their innovation spirit and share it with you here in this blog. In the meantime, I encourage you to explore the Spirit of Innovation Challenge website..
By the way, two teams from the greater Houston area (Katy and Conroe) won first place awards in the Aerospace Exploration and Health & Nutrition categories respectively.
(As full disclosure, I am the coach of the team from Conroe, TX and the two team members are my sons.)