Every spring since 2012, teenagers from around the globe convene in Newark for one of the world’s largest entrepreneurship competitions for high schoolers, The Diamond Challenge.
Created at the University of Delaware by Horn Entrepreneurship, the ever-growing competition is part of the The Paul & Linda McConnell Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative. The competition starts with students submitting entries that are judged online by a pool of judges, followed by pitch events in dozens of countries and culminating in a Youth Entrepreneurship Summit, where finalists pitch their ideas on two tracks: Business Innovation and Social Innovation.
In an average year, the logistics of planning a competition that draws hundreds of entries culminating in a three-day summit is a feat. This year, with a pandemic that is as global as the competition itself, the summit was out of the question.
But after starting out with 766 submissions involving 5,000-plus high school students, the event was transitioned into a successful two-week virtual summit involving 73 semifinalist teams from 30 countries and 18 states. Julie Frieswyk, assistant director of youth programs at Horn Entrepreneurship, played a lead role in making it happen.
“The biggest challenge with turning the summit into an all-virtual event was that it had to be done so quickly and in a time of such profound uncertainty,” Frieswyk told Technical.ly. “The accelerated timeline gave our team direct purpose and goals during a time that, for many, has turned into a chaotic or even traumatic time with unemployment or a complete change [of] workload and responsibilities.”
The team working apart to comply with social distancing orders was one challenge that others working remotely right now can probably relate to.
“You can’t simply ‘pop in’ to ask a question or clarify something from an email,” she said. “What I can say is that we have gotten to be quite efficient with our Zoom meeting times!”
Since the Diamond Challenge has always had a virtual component, the team had the software capability to pivot. But in those early days of the lockdown, when there were suggestions that things could get back to normal in a matter of weeks, not knowing what was ahead was more difficult than being able to pull off the event virtually.
“We did have to pivot a number of times between the decision to go virtual with the summit and the ultimate plan and schedule as we kept trying to keep some judging components in-person or live,” said Frieswyk. “However, as the timelines of the shelter-in-place orders kept getting longer, we eventually had to pivot to an entirely virtual judging round, with a livestream of the results during an award ceremony held on April 18.”
And the winners of the 2020 Diamond Challenge are:
Social Innovation Track
- First Place ($11,000): ExoHeal (Saudi Arabia and India), an affordable post-stroke robotic device accompanied by a doctor-patient communication app to help paralyzed patients recover 30% faster
- Second Place ($7,000): inGeniusLearn (Alexandria, Virginia), a comprehensive AI software application that hyper-personalizes virtual education with real-time confusion detection and immediate student feedback
- Third Place ($3,500): EZ Water (Pakistan), an affordable, accessible device to provide clean drinking water to masses globally
Business Innovation Track
- First Place ($11,000): Astrofilter (Raleigh, North Carolina), a self-cleaning filter designed to remove debris from spacecraft ventilation systems, increasing the efficacy of CO₂ removal units
- Second Place ($7,000): FisionLens (Aurora, Illinois), a thin, film-like plastic that adheres directly onto the surface of existing glasses lenses to make prescription updates
- Third Place ($3,500): Ditch Dat! (Honolulu, Hawaii), a patent-pending pediculicide (aka head lice treatment) invention that kills head lice and head lice eggs in a safe, effective, affordable and eco-friendly manner
In addition, new topical prizes were sponsored by Delaware-based Gore, which had 40 associates involved in this year’s Diamond Challenge and the German enterprise applications software company SAP. Chemours, which recently opened its research and development hub on UD’s STAR Campus, awarded topical prizes for a second year.
Gore awarded topical prizes to Sound: the Alternative Fire Extinguisher, a New Hampshire team with a fire extinguisher that uses sound waves, and UDTech Farm System, a team from Kenya that uses IoT to improve crop production. SAP awarded Locare, a California team with a smart band for special-needs children, and Talk to Me, a team from the Republic of Georgia with an app for children of deaf and hard of hearing parents.
This year’s Chemours topical prize for responsible STEM innovation in business entrepreneurship went to Envilytics, a team from Lebanon and Libya that uses artificial intelligence to reveal students’ social problems. The Chemours prize in social entrepreneurship went to Plastizyme, a New Jersey team that uses enzymes to recycle household plastics.
Students interested in applying to next year’s Diamond Challenge should start by joining the Diamond Challenge Facebook Group.