A group of 60 promising social entrepreneurs from around the globe convened in New York City at the MIT Solve Challenge Finals on Sept. 23 to pitch their solutions to four global Challenges: Coastal Communities, Frontlines of Health, Teachers and Educators, and Work of the Future.
The teams unveiled ideas ranging from sea urchin-fighting robots to a platform for multilingual books to a neonatal vital sign monitor to a virtual reality job training tool. After a long day of pitches and deliberation, four judging panels (made up of Solve’s Challenge Leadership Groups) selected 33 teams to form the 2018 Solver class, including:
- nine new Coastal Communities Solver teams;
- eight new Frontlines of Health Solver teams;
- eight new Teachers and Educators Solver teams; and
- eight new Work of the Future Solver teams.
The finals began with an engaging opening plenary session titled “Big Bold Optimism for Progress.”
“While there’s still much to be done in the world, we’ve made great progress in the last decades,” Alex Amouyel, Solve’s executive director, said to kick off the session. “We can do much more by taking risks and investing in innovation.”
Hala Hanna, Solve’s managing director of community, and David Moinina Sengeh SM '12, PhD '16, chief innovation officer for Sierra Leone, then began the first discussion of the day. The speakers focused on Solve’s core value: that even big challenges are solvable. But how?
“It’s about redirecting the money and the resources that are there now to supporting the people who are doing, who are coding, who are Solvers,” Sengeh said.
The Atlassian Foundation and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also announced an additional $2.6 million in follow-on funding for last year’s Youth, Skills, and the Workforce of the Future Solver teams during the opening plenary.
In the closing plenary, “Bridging the Pioneer Gap,” a panel of Noubar Afeyan of Flagship Pioneering, Cheryl Dorsey of Echoing Green, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations spoke about their common goal to close the pioneer gap and ensure that every great idea had the chance to flourish. During the discussion, which was moderated by Leslie Picker of CNBC, the panelists said that to accomplish this, innovators need more than just funding, they also need support.
“Many of the contestants came here and said partnerships are about capacity, about ideas, about exchange, and moral support,” said Okonjo-Iweala. “You can get far more from these networks and partnerships than just money.”
After the panel, the new Solver Class was announced, and five prizes were awarded.
Among them was the General Motors Prize for Advanced Technologies, which was presented by, Ken Kelzer, General Motors’ vice president of global vehicle components and subsystems.
“The optimism, the partnership, the open innovation, the focus on human solutions, and the desire to use technology to solve the world’s most pressing problems are all values that GM shares with MIT Solve,” Kelzer said.
This prize awards $100,000 to solutions that deploy advanced technologies within the Teachers and Educators and Work of the Future challenges, with the goal of advancing innovations that provide skills and jobs in the transportation sector. Kelzer and General Motors recognized the importance of strong schools and workers for the future of their own organization and awarded the generous prize to four Solver teams: Refactored.ai, Virtual Grasp, Livox, and TalkingPoints.
Four other organizations similarly supported new Solver teams. In total, $1 million in prize funding is available for the new Solver class, with a total of over $3.5 million in funding for current and new Solver teams. A full list of prizes and their recipients is available online. A livestream of the event is also available for viewing.
The new Solver class will spend the next year working closely with Solve to grow and improve their solutions through funding, mentorship, and support from the Solve community.