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Meet 5 of the Inspirational Speakers You’ll Hear at Solve Challenge Finals 2019

Solve Challenge Finals 2019 (September 22) will welcome 60 social entrepreneurs using technology to tackle complex Global Challenges, as well as over 400 leaders in philanthropy, business, government, and academia. 

After pitching their solutions to a panel of expert judges, the most promising of these 60 innovators will be selected to form the next Solver class, receiving access to over $1.6 million in prize funding. Finalist pitches will be bookended by two thought-provoking plenary sessions, “Bridging the Innovation Gap” and “Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship.”

We’ll livestream the plenary sessions and solution pitches on our website, Facebook, and Twitter, and share live updates on our social media channels throughout the day, so anyone around the world can tune in and join the conversation.

Curious about what to expect? Meet some of the inspiring speakers you’ll hear from this year, all changemakers leveraging their influence for the greater good.

Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE

After six months of preparation in 2006 that included Black Sea survival training and Russian language lessons, Anousheh Ansari set forth on an 11-day privately-funded space expedition. Fast-forwarding over a decade to 2018, Ansari helped launch an equally-ambitious effort: The Billion Dollar Fund for Women, a campaign that’s committed to investing $1 billion in women founders by 2020. 

At XPRIZE, Ansari’s team seeks to fill the funding and innovation gap with incentive competitions that spark solutions responding to challenges such as: increasing adult literacy, harvesting water from thin air, and accelerating seawater surface oil clean-up. We’re eager to hear Ansari’s insights on supporting innovation toward the SDGs.

M. Sanjayan, PhD, CEO of Conservation International

M. Sanjayan draws from his multifaceted skill set to enrich the public dialogue on conservation. Sanjayan has a strong foundation in academic research, but he’s also dabbled in branding and communications, written for the Huffington Post, hosted a slew of documentaries, and embarked on a press tour with Jane Goodall for Disneynature’s Monkey Kingdom

Conservation International empowers people to preserve their natural ecosystems—and if today’s solutions aren’t up to that mammoth task, we’ll have to start looking towards new technologies. Sanjayan will join Ansari in the opening plenary, “Bridging the Innovation Gap.”

Sara Menker, CEO of Gro Intelligence

When Sara Menker and her team built the agricultural data platform Gro Intelligence, they decided to illustrate the 214 trillion calorie deficit in terms of Big Macs. That strategic choice was part of Gro Intelligence’s commitment to making its AI-powered data on agricultural weather and climate accessible—demonstrating how inclusive innovation allows users to have more meaningful interactions with technology. 

Since agriculture touches almost every walk of life, the reports that Gro Intelligence generates can inform farmers, businesses, policymakers, and insurance companies. Significantly, Menker has deployed Gro Intelligence’s technology to research the impact of natural disasters on food supply. During the closing plenary, we’ll hear about Menker’s journey from trading on Wall Street to becoming a pioneer in the much-neglected field of agriculture tech.

Monique Idlett, Founder and Managing Partner of Reign Ventures

At 22, Monique Idlett snagged a senior executive ad sales job at USA Today through sheer grit and with the support of a female VP. Even as she blazed through her star-studded career in the entertainment industry, Idlett cradled a vision of creating a mentorship network for entrepreneurs that investors are less likely to take risks on. 

This belief in the need for diverse innovation gave way to Reign Ventures, a $25 million early-stage VC firm focused on scaling women- and minority-led startups. Whether she’s acting as a National Trustee for The Boys and Girls Club or working on the UN’s largest youth initiative in history, Idlett is constantly leveraging her expertise and influence to widen opportunity. 

D. Fox Harrell, Director of the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality

Digital storyteller D. Fox Harrell spends his days delving into the potential for video games and other forms of digital media to express virtual identity in a nuanced way. Harrell’s focused his career at the intersection between art, cognition, and computer science—for example, he’s spearheaded the design of a video game based on models of group categorization and how sexism manifests itself in the workplace. 

After all, AI is more than a mere technical or utilitarian tool; it’s also a vehicle for producing meaning through artistic mediums such as computational narrative. We’re delighted that Harrell, bringing his interdisciplinary perspective on identity and innovation, will join us at Solve Challenge Finals.

Inspired by these speakers? Learn more about Solve Challenge Finals.


Panelists discuss in the "Diving into Data for Good" plenary of Solve at MIT, May 8, 2019. Photo: Adam Schultz / MIT Solve


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Solve Challenge Finals 2019

Apella | New York City

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