The Final(ist) Steps
Over the past three months, I worked relentlessly on an application for the MIT Solv[ED] Youth Innovator Challenge. After submitting my application to the challenge platform in January, there was not much to do but sit tight until the March solutions event to find out if I would make it to the list.
However, a month later on February 22, I got an email that said that out of 810 solutions submitted, I was one of the 20 selected finalists. I was beyond elated at the news. I told my family — my mom, dad, and sister, and my aunt — as they had been instrumental in my journey to getting as far as I did with my application. And of course my team in Sindhuli!
Once I was notified that I was a finalist, there was a list of things I needed to do. My itinerary included:
- Wednesday, February 23: Attend a mandatory virtual pitch training session
- Thursday, February 24: Complete a form with details of my team, additional references
- Saturday, February 26: Schedule a virtual pitch recording session
- Monday, February 26: Record a three-minute pitch complete with pitch slides
- Sunday, Match 6: Participate in virtual interviews with the challenge judges
Although it was slightly overwhelming to receive this schedule for the finalist challenge, I was really excited to pursue this opportunity. Although I had some experience pitching — at Model United Nations events, at Ethics Bowl events, for journalism classes, etc. — I had never done something like this where a real panel of judges would dissect and question my pitch.
Over the course of four days, I created my slides and my pitch script and practiced over and over, tweaking little bits here and there and trying to squish as much information as possible into the three minutes I had. Finally, the big day of the pitch recording session came. After a few tries, I made my pitch and closed my laptop with a sigh of relief.
However, the hardest part was not yet over. Anticipating the judges questioning was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life. I realized that I had to not just be informative in answering their questions, but also persuasive. I had to convince the judges that my solution was worth their time and investment.
To prepare, I roped my parents into performing as judges in a mock-interview. We went out to a restaurant, index cards and pen in hand and my parents quizzed me on all things related to my solution. I wrote down specific information that might be helpful to me and answered their rapid-fire questions to the best of my abilities.
The next day, I joined my Zoom session. My pre-recorded clip pitch clip played, and once it was done playing, the judges had ten minutes to ask me questions. After the question-answer period, which felt more like ten hours , I thanked the judges for their time and left the session feeling nervous but also relieved as this was the last step of the finalist judging process.
Review and Redirection
In early March, I heard I did not make it to the top ten list of Solv[ED] Innovators. I was disappointed, but this is not the end for me. I was grateful for the opportunity I had through MIT Solv[ED] to go deeper into my solution.
I already had an earlier US$300 exploratory micro-grant from Solv[ED], which had helped me and my team come as far as we had. I had one last event I needed to attend — theMIT Solv[ED] virtual event on March 25. One of the sessions available through this event was the- HP Girls Save the World Finalist session. Apparently I had made it to the list of HP Girls Save the World Prize finalists!
The HP Girls Save the World Prize is separate from the Solv[ED] Innovator Challenge. For this challenge, HP selects young women between the ages of 13–18 from the pool of Solv[ED] applicants. I attended the virtual event for finalists where we introduced ourselves and talked about our role models, passions, and similarities.
We were all in for an even bigger surprise when a HP team representative announced that every finalist would receive grant money for our projects! Additionally, she said, HP would send each of us an HP Tech Pack which included laptops and printers for the rest of the members of my team!
This means so much to me. Although computers and handhelds are part of my life here in the US, Sabina and Sunita learned to use computers last year and have to travel to the village internet cafe to use one. Our work, and our communication will benefit from having tools that help us reach them.