When and where did you participate in Imagine Cup?
My journey in Imagine Cup was spread over 4 years. The first year I was part of the crowd watching the amazing teams and their projects being presented at the national finals of Imagine Cup in New Zealand. I decided right then and there that not only was I going to take part and work on a project that makes a difference, I would also win the Imagine Cup globally; this was in 2009.
I won the Imagine Cup in New Zealand 2 years in a row with two different projects and then went on to win 3rd and the top 6 spot at the Worldwide Finals in 2010 and 2011 (Poland and New York). I then mentored a team from India to win across all categories in Imagine Cup India Finals who won the Global People’s Choice award in 2012 (Australia).
Tell us about your experience and overall take on the competition.
You see, Imagine Cup is not a destination, it’s a journey. This journey can change your life along the way, it did mine. IC gives you 10x the return on what you put in, both from the perspective of personal and professional growth. For example, it taught me not only how to work in a team, but also to lead it; the ups and downs can really test your bonds with your team. If you have patience and consistency you come out stronger on the other end with the understanding of how to really bring the best out of people.
From the professional point of view I think the advantages are very obvious. All three of my team mates got some very amazing jobs and in all of their job interviews, they talked about their journey in Imagine Cup. That happened because the experience you have with Imagine Cup truly is world class and completely out of the ordinary.
In saying all of this, don’t let my enthusiasm for how amazing a journey it is to overshadow that it is HARD, it can completely drain you of energy, time and social life. You won’t get much sleep and you will be pushed out of your comfort zone for example, a shy person will have to give a public presentation to hundreds if not thousands on a stage. For engineers who only care about tech - you will be pushed to think about financial sustainability, business models and partnerships. If you really want to make a difference in the world the task is not easy and neither is Imagine Cup.
I'm not going to tell you it's going to be easy, I'm telling you it's going to be worth it.
Did you and your team have to overcome a challenge while creating your project? If so, what was it and how did you overcome it.
Putting an “A” before the word challenge is an understatement in this case. We faced and overcame more hurdles and challenges then any one of us could have anticipated.
For example we had no idea how to build what we had pitched to Microsoft initially. No idea at all. We did not know if it was even possible, but that did not matter.
Our project (OneBeep) was about building a platform which enables people to have internet type connection by plugging in a simple AM/FM radio into their computer. We went and spoke to everyone that we could, I called every radio engineer/operator/maintenance guy I could find, bought them all a coffee and talked for as long as I could have them sitting in the chair across me. I became a temporary industry expert in the field of radio communications in 3 weeks and we found out not only was it possible to build what we wanted to, but also how to build it.
Moral of the story - “If you don’t ask, the answer is always NO.”
What resources were helpful when you were working on your project?
I am a big fan of mentorship. The ability to empower others with your learning of life and work can be a very powerful thing if done well.
For me personally, the mentors I had in Imagine Cup changed my perspective on a lot of things, be it my view on what branding and marketing means or my approach to dealing with people and creating the best environment for my team to be most productive in. You have to be like a “selective sponge” - choose who you want to learn from and then soak up all the learning, till the last drop.
What are you are up to now?
OneBeep, the project that started out of Imagine Cup is now a registered company and has won numerous awards all over the world and is working towards solving a global problem of digital divide.
With OneBeep, we created a way to transmit data to remote areas – particularly those without internet access. While many programmes like One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) have been set up to give low cost computers to children in poor communities, these children are often in areas so remote that there is no way for them to access up-to-date information. OneBeep’s software converts digital files to audio, and then transmits them via radio waves. These can be received on any AM/FM radio, which passes it on to the laptop via an inexpensive audio cable. As every village has AM radios, we created a low-cost way to beam out daily lessons, health materials and even software updates/games over long distances to thousands of devices.
I came up with the original concept, wrote the code for a very early prototype and then pitched it to a few friends who then joined the team.
Very recently I have decided to give the technology away for free, we are currently in the process of raising funds from KickStarter and if things go to plan, we will be releasing OneBeep open-source by early next year.
Another big thing that just recently happened to me was that I was selected as a General Electric Alva Emerging Fellow. This award recognizes three up-and-coming entrepreneurs throughout the world. I share the honor with Tony Fadel, the man who designed the iPod.
What was the most important thing you learned from participating in the competition?
It’s very hard to choose just one that would be the “most important”. However, if I really had to then the learning that I see the most value in is:
In life, no matter what you do, no matter where you are. IT’S ALL ABOUT PEOPLE: Convincing, empowering, collaborating, and engaging them. The list goes on, but now I truly believe that if you want to be truly amazing and make a mark on the world - you have to understand people.
I truly believe that the genius hides inside everyone. It is in different forms and shapes but it’s there. However sometimes it lies there dormant. Hidden. It has to be coaxed out and this process is what excites me. I don’t believe in the word ‘help’, I like to work with people to find their genius, I believe in the word ‘empower’. This is my main hobby, cause and activity.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in Imagine Cup?
Even though I am not a fan of structured lists or bullet points, in this case I will use them.
1) Your biggest enemy is mediocrity. If something sucks, I don't look at it as "well, it could be worse". Your reaction should be "It sucks and needs to be better."
2) No idea is bad, yes some are better than the others - but always remember 99% of the success depends on the execution. Make ideas happen.
3) Find and work with AMAZING people. Never ever ever ever compromise on the quality of people you engage and interact with.
4) Read a lot, talk to people about how they do things and the issues they face. Sometimes the problems that can be solved to make the lives of people easy are staring you in the face, but you can’t see them because you are not really looking. Be attentive.
5) Watch every great speech and presentation you can get your hands on - become addicted to TED. Because every great idea is only going to make a difference if you learn how to get your vision across to the masses eloquently and simply.
6) Always have focus, don't try and solve too many issues or help everybody. The beauty lies in the ability to choose where you want to put your energy and time (you have limited supply of both).
7) Work hard to think about financial sustainability of your project. But don’t worry too much about it to start off with. Create good products/ideas and other pieces will fall into place.
8) It’s good to focus on winning the Cup, but remember that not winning in Imagine Cup does not limit you in any way. I did not win the Imagine Cup and neither did others who are changing the world.
9) Get in touch with everyone that can be of help. Pitch your heart out, be genuine and I promise you people will rise of the occasion.
10) ALWAYS REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN.
“It’s impossible,” said pride. “It’s risky,” said experience. “It’s pointless,” said reason. “Give it a try,” whispered the heart.
Just went through the entire write and I must say you continue to inspire me .
hello sir u r really such a genius..........