When it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship, the memory of the moon landing still resonates. When we reached the moon in 1969, the men and women working in mission control were the same children who were in high school when President Kennedy announced his intention to get America there; that all happened in less than a decade. Everyone who contributed to the process didn’t just expand upon existing ideas, but they created a new reality entirely.
This is what I think of when I consider the process for meaningful innovation. If your thinking is inside the box, you will repeat what has always been done. Nothing will improve. If you think outside the box, you will pursue some new opportunities, address a few existing challenges, and likely make some positive contributions.
But what if there is no box at all?
We are now looking at returning to space as passengers; travelers with the opportunity to settle lunar outposts. This is a long way from what we thought in 1960 and, yet, it hasn’t really been that long at all! We are nearing the dawn of the next space age because there were people who discarded the box and thought in new ways. People who saw innovation not as science fiction, but as life-altering and history-making.
In the Conrad Challenge, no-box thinking is the goal. Each year, we invite teams of students aged 13-18 to think beyond limits and to design for a future that is ever-evolving. These students look at the biggest global and local challenges - the “wicked problems” that have no clear solution and no evident starting point - and unleash their entrepreneurial skills to change the trajectory of human history. What these kids do is amazing, and it happens because we believe in their ability, encourage collaboration, provide support, elevate their voices and show them there is no need for a box around their thinking.
Consumers As Creators
Student-led innovation isn’t just about designing the future, nor preparing for life in the workforce. With the right opportunity, students can actually change the way learning happens in schools, right here and right now. With the support of SMART Technologies, we have a new education category in the 2018-19 Conrad Challenge - Transforming Education Through Technology which brings student-designed EdTech concepts to life. This category challenges students to develop new products and services that measurably improve teaching and learning outcomes, addressing the need to make the learning process more efficient and effective.
There’s much more engagement when we increase the level of ownership, and what could increase ownership more than having students design the tools used in classrooms? Imagine if students create the technologies for the classroom and the teacher now becomes the guide – how might classrooms look and function differently? Ownership of learning will skyrocket when students have a much greater investment in the structure and the process.
No Box, No Limits
Unleashing students’ entrepreneurial and innovative talents through the Conrad Challenge honors the legacy of my late husband, Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad, the third man to walk on the moon and a man who dedicated four decades of his life to innovation and entrepreneurship.
I recently did a podcast interview alongside one of our impressive alumni, Ankesh Madan, who has gone on to co-found Undercover Colors, a solution that is addresing the problem of drug-facilitated sexual assault by developing products to detect the presence of date rape drugs in drinks.
During the interview, Ankesh talked about what he learned during the Challenge:
“The Conrad Challenge was my first exposure to entrepreneurship... It was the first time I had the chance to see academic research or scientific breakthroughs be transformed into the real world. How do you take these scientific breakthroughs and apply them to real-world thought problems and how do you build sustainable products?”
And now, it’s no exaggeration to say that his work is making an impact that will change the world.
Over the years, we have had participants from more than 70 countries. Finalist teams are invited to our Innovation Summit hosted at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex where they present their ideas to judges from industry, government and academia. Think Shark Tank meets the Academy Awards for students. And winning our competition is just the beginning. Our students have presented their ideas at the White House and United Nations, created nutrition bars that have literally flown to space aboard STS 134, developed a water filtration system to change lives in high-need areas of the world, and so much more. Our students own their ideas, and some go on to deploy their products and receive patents and bring products to market.
Join us and be part a global community of young innovators who are designing the future. Learn more about the Conrad Challenge: