“Put the Coffee in the Pot, We’re Gonna Let it Percolate!” This Thursday At SIPA: The 2013 #PitchTech4Dev Competition


ImageWe’ve all experienced those moments of inventive epiphany. Unexpectedly, innovation and inspiration will collide with need and a brilliant new app is born. They’re moments usually followed by the realization that the invention already exists, or that OMG a cat in a shark costume on a Roomba chasing a duck I must share this video with the world!

In one of very few watchable scenes in The Internship, 42 year-old Google intern Vince Vaughn brings this moment to life with his on-the-fly pitch for a photo-sharing app, only to be told that Instagram exists before awkwardly working through the denial-anger-grief-acceptance continuum:

“Mine’s very different than that… cuz with mine you’re taking the photo instantaneously. You’re putting the photo out there on the line. I’m putting my photos out on the line and I’m creating an exchange. But mine’s more of a social sharing. That’s happening. On the line…”

This Thursday at SIPA, from 3pm-7pm, the New Media Task Force hosts our annual Technology For Development Pitch Competition. Will Vince Vaughn be there? We can’t prove that he won’t be. We can promise an all-star Judges Panel featuring Google Ideas Product Manager Justin Kosslyn, along with several other VIP guests spanning the fields of mobile technology, media development, venture capital, sustainable engineering, urban design, and tech entrepreneurship. And we can promise truly unique, new, innovative tech ideas, developed and presented by Columbia graduate students to solve some of the world’s most challenging political, economic, and social problems. The NMTF has carefully selected the best to make their pitch and compete for cash prizes.

Tech innovations, particularly ICTs, are becoming increasingly critical tools in the fields of international development, humanitarian relief, and human rights. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, just a few grad students at Tufts were able to connect with a small tech startup in Kenya to digitally connect thousands of volunteer crisis mappers, developers, and translators around the world who collected, mapped, and reported real-time emergency information coming out of Haiti via social media and SMS. The partnership quickly grew to include the US State Department, FrontlineSMS, and Haitian telecoms and resulted in an emergency SMS channel for Haitians trapped or in need of help.

When even the hemisphere’s poorest nation has over 40% mobile connectivity, the door is wide open to innovative technology solutions that respond to emergencies of seemingly overwhelming scope and to the most basic yet intractable village-level development challenges. In India and Uganda for instance, Open Mind has implemented the Question Box, an initiative that breaks through technology, language, and literacy barriers in remote rural villages to help people find answers to everyday questions about health, agriculture, business, education and entertainment. Combining simple telephone and solar technology, villagers can use a single, centralized button connected to live operators with internet access that provide real-time answers to questions like “what is the market price for a pound of potatoes”, or “what is the cricket score?”

This Thursday, the NMTF asks, the judges answer: “who is the next tech for development innovator in our midst?” We have some brilliant candidates ready to make their pitch and some of the most highly regarded and experience professionals ready to receive them and make their pick. So come watch! Meet the pros, hear the up-and-comers, and realize you totally had the same brilliant idea to make the world a better place, but then, you know, Miley Cyrus.

Columbia University’s SIPA NMTF Technology for Development Pitch Competition
Date: November 14
Time: 3:00pm-7:00pm
***Cocktail Networking Reception to Follow***
Columbia University
School of International and Public Affairs
Room 1512
420 West 118th St