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What You Missed at the 2018 Solve Challenge Finals

On September 23, a group of 60 promising social entrepreneurs from around the globe convened in New York City at Solve Challenge Finals to pitch their solutions to Solve’s four global Challenges: Coastal Communities, Frontlines of Health, Teachers & Educators, and Work of the Future.

These teams pitched everything 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—our Challenge Leadership Groups—selected 33 teams to form the 2018 Solver class, including:

If you couldn’t attend, here are a few highlights from the day’s program. You can view the livestream here.

Big Bold Optimism for Progress

Solve Challenge Finals began with an engaging opening plenary session, 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, 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.

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,” said Sengeh.

During this plenary session, the Atlassian Foundation and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced an additional $2.6 million in follow-on funding for last year’s Youth, Skills, and the Workforce of the Future Solver teams.

Bridging the Pioneer Gap

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, moderated by Leslie Picker of CNBC, spoke about their common goal to close the pioneer gap and ensure every great idea has the chance to flourish. To accomplish this, innovators need more than just funding; they 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 this panel, Solve announced the new Solver Class, and five prizes were awarded. Among them was the General Motors Prize for Advanced Technologies.

When presenting the prize, Ken Kelzer, Vice President, Global Vehicle Components and Subsystems, General Motors, explained, “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.”

This prize awarded $100,000 to solutions from the Teachers & Educators and Work of the Future Challenges that deploy advanced technologies, with the goal of advancing innovations that provide skills and jobs in the transportation sector. Kelzer and GM recognized the importance of strong schools and workers for the future of their own organization. GM awarded this 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. You can find a full list of prizes and their recipients here.

The new Solver class will spend the next year working closely with Solve to grow and improve their solutions. With funding, mentorship, and support from the Solve community, we can’t wait to see how these Solver teams will expand their impact.


Gearing up for the live pitch sessions at Solve Challenge Finals, September 23, 2018. (Photo: Adam Schultz / MIT Solve)

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at 2018 Solve Challenge Finals

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