It may have seemed like a wild idea when it was proposed a year ago, but the British Airways Ungrounded flight from San Francisco to London with over 100 innovators on board produced some remarkable results. Four broad challenges were set up under four teams, Altitude. Ground Control, Wingspan and Transatlantic. Teams broke into subsections which yield 22 separate teams competing for four top slots. The prize would be to be presented at the G8 Innovation Summit and Decide Now Act Summits in London.
Set in motion by Simon Talling-Smith, BA Executive Vice President of Americans, the Innovation Lab in the Sky was spearheaded on the ground by Duncan Logan, CEO of RocketSpace. His advisory team in Silicon Valley included Rhona Abrahams, Marguerite Gong Hancock, Todd Lutwak, Gerald Brady, Celestine Johnson, Leor Stern, Amir Dossal, Mark Florman, and included Simon Talling-Smith.
Working through the 10 hour overnight flight, the creative and competitive juices were flowing. Teams were populated by people with diverse skills, gender nationality and focus. Squeezed into the plane’s aisles, the competition rose as ideas became concepts, each built on the contribution of others. Business plans were layered into to bring the innovation to reality within twelve months. Then the visualizations took place and the pitching began.
Just imagine creating along side Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist, Kimberly Bryant, Black Girls Code, Gini Bianchini, Mightybell, and JJ Juan-Dura, Vodaphone Global Enterprise, Wesley Chan, Google Ventures, Mark Campos, Waze, and dozens more just like them. Passions rose as the night wore on, “Whose team would come out on top? Each participant got five votes to choose among the twenty-two presentations. Energy ran high as each pitch master tried hard to corral votes. Proposals ran neck and neck while more than 100 people circled the aisles straining to hear each pitch before voting.
In the end some remarkable proposals bested the competition in each of the four categories:
In Altitude, fostering women in STEM, AdviseHer won out. This proposal is to foster mentoring by experienced women in stem to those starting out in their careers. They in turn would pledge to mentor others coming up behind them when they gained enough knowledge. The matches would be connected through a website with social media connections. The virtuous cycle would continue to flow overtime to increase women’s human capital network.
In Ground Control, growing STEM in emerging economies, the innovation became a practical one to implement. Entrepreneurs traveling to rural areas would have a” lab in a back pack” with communications and power to download current data for budding entrepreneurs far from the centers of population. Experienced entrepreneurs criss-crossing the global would be able to update the download data to budding entrepreneurs in rural areas, who in tern would share with village dwellers.
The Wingspan teams competed for solutions to expand stem education. The winner here is named INIT, with their clever slogan, INIT to WIN IT. Very similar to the nutrition labels on food packaging, INIT would describe the computer software inside common devises used everyday. Kids and parents would be able to discover how things are made, which would in turn foster interest in STEM education.
The Transatlantic teams were charged with meeting the demand for stem workers in the US. The winning solution turned out to be Certify Me, and online testing module that would rank people regardless of global origin on the critical skills to fill the STEM jobs in the US . Conducted online, the skills test would eliminate degree requirements and instead highlight skills by performance.
WOW. What an experience. What started out as a crazy idea to bring 100 hard-charging people together inflight turned out to be a rewarding experience all the way around whether your team won the most votes or not.
It showed me that these innovators care a great deal about solving some of our a pressing world problems, these related to STEM imbalances and to growing need for trained workers in STEM fields. It was worth the energy and the sleepless night to see the positive reaction to the solutions presented at the G8 Innovation Summit and the Decide Now Act (DNA) Summit in London.
Would I do it again? You bet. Innovation takes flight, and my hopes for a better future with it.