At the University of Texas in Austin, a conventional business plan competition platform has evolved into a venue for students everywhere to improve the world. Based on crowdsourcing principles, the competition platform allows university students from around the world to take their ideas beyond conception & winning competitions to improving lives.
The Dell Social Innovation Challenge began six years ago as a conventional business plan competition challenging students to come up with socially innovative ideas. Winning students used to receive $50,000 grants to put their plan into action. Today, participants can win their share of $350,000 in prizes and awards thanks to a $5.3 Million dollar donation by Dell, the naming sponsor.
Rob Hanna, the DSIC chief architect, joined one year ago to redesign and re-engineer the platform using open innovation principles to foster collaboration among team members. No longer a winner take all competition, the DSIC's ongoing mission is to foster a spirit of creation among students worldwide.
Everything from filling out your profile to planting gardens in Africa is built around an act of achieving real improvements. The process encourages students to express what they want to bring to the world. Students have the opportunity to create their own projects or help out with existing ones.
25,000 students from over 100 countries all participate collectively as teams. Hanna states, "We try to facilitate team engagement and participation across discipline. So even if a student comes up with an idea in Delhi, they can see that someone in Stanford is doing the same thing, and get involved." It's better to foster collaboration than get everyone thinking competitively. The DSIC lets students look along the needs spectrum and jump in where they can help out best - a textbook macrotasking definition.
When asked if the DSIC is worried about competitors popping up due to the growth of crowdsourcing and open innovation, Hanna responded, "Isn't that beautiful? We're encouraging competition. We want more social entrepreneurial challenges and resources. We want more awareness of the power of the crowd."
By design, the DSIC is adopting the principles of crowdsourcing - it's an open call for student innovators everywhere to create organizations that improve lives. The platform doesn't dictate what the solutions are. They simply provide the tools and gather the crowd. Hanna states, "Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are a great way for people to help define the priority of problems, and then solve them. The Dell Social Innovation Challenge can help elevate this into global awareness."
The DNA of every challenge is improving the baselines on the planet. Every year, millions of students are at the peak time in their lives to bring their intelligence, enthusiasm, and focus into something good. Finding a forum where other like-minded students are harnessing this enthusiasm to collaboratively solve problems becomes an incredibly powerful engine.
Hanna concludes, "What I see is people getting closer to realizing their ambitions in a quantitative way, and that's exciting."
For more information on the Dell Social Innovation Challenge, or to get involved with a socially innovative project, visit dellchallenge.org.