When people think of student entrepreneurs, the first that come to mind are the stories of moguls like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of university to create some of the most profitable companies in the world. And while their success is impressive and should be recognized, that type of fame and fortune can make the narrative about the journey and the experience seem unattainable to most.
For every Gates and Zuckerberg there are, in fact, countless other students who are working on building the skill sets needed to become creative problem-solvers of the future. For the past 14 years, we have been inviting student innovators from across the world to participate in the Conrad Challenge. Our multi-phase innovation and entrepreneurship competition brings science and technology studies to life through a student-driven, project-based approach. Many winning teams have gone on to develop startups dedicated to solving some of the world’s most important challenges, from detecting date rape drugs to empowering underrepresented groups in computer science and more.
Student Innovators Tackle Global Challenges
Another great example stems from this year’s competition, where two students from New Delhi took home the top award in the Energy & Environment category for their invention, PowerCycle.
In India, millions of people travel long distances on mechanical bicycles. In fact, the students quoted research that found 45 percent of Indian households use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation, traveling up to 20 kilometers daily. PowerCycle is a solar-powered bicycle designed to reduce energy consumption, physical labor for the cyclists, and financial costs.
The solar powered bicycle offers an alternative to constant pedaling and helps to conserve the cyclist's energy, as well as nonrenewable energy required for other motor powered vehicles. The bike uses a solar panel, doubling as a protective shield, to collect the sun’s energy to power the bike; this way, riders are charging their bikes during their trips. The students even built a prototype of the solar powered bike and brought it around the city to hear from current cyclists about the potential benefits afforded by their invention.
Our ‘No Box’ Approach to Innovation
At the Conrad Challenge, we take a unique approach to student entrepreneurship that focuses on:
1. Fostering student-led projects: Each team requires 2-5 students, along with a team advisor. During the multi-phase competition, team advisors are encouraged to play the role of at-the-ready support system while team members leave the title of ‘student’ and become entrepreneurial problem solvers. Students learn how to work together to identify a challenge, moving an idea to solution through the completion of a 20-page business plan. While educators are instrumental in providing direction and structure, students will lead their own journey.
2. Empowering students to explore what matters to them: With six global challenges to choose from, students are encouraged to seek out solutions to problems they are truly passionate about. True to form, the STEM competition includes science, technology, engineering, math and much more.
For example, Team PowerCycle cited a variety of societal and environmental implications for the solar-powered bike, which aims to “address the problems faced by urban and rural India poor and….to tackle issues of widespread poverty, depleting energy resources, and climate change, helping to bring people a better quality of life.”
3. Identifying real-world relevance to their solutions: Our multi-phase approach makes entrepreneurship attainable for students by breaking down the process into three steps, including:
- Round 1―After researching global and local issues in their chosen category, teams create a product or service to address this challenge and illustrate its viability as an innovative solution on the market;
- Round 2―Teams develop a full business plan outlining their idea and create a strategy to introduce their product/service to market using a series of questions to help guide their thought process and considerations; and
- Round 3―The competition culminates at the Innovation Summit, where teams present their innovations before an esteemed panel of expert judges.
We’ve seen firsthand how students, when given the right tools, support, and guidance, can become creators and leaders of the future. Rather than waiting for the next great invention, we aim to bolster student innovations and entrepreneurship through our annual competition.
Registration is now open for teams of 2-5 students to enter the 2020-21 Conrad Challenge. Find more information and register here.
About the Author:
Nancy Conrad is the Founding Chairman of the Conrad Foundation. A former teacher, Nancy has been named one of the top 100 leaders in STEM, has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and has been a featured speaker at conferences and events worldwide. Follow the conversation with Nancy on Twitter: @inventioneer