Author Archive for lhtorres

MIT Global Challenge Partner Wins Design Award!

Kudos to the entire IdeaCouture team led by Cheesan and Caroline for your outstanding work – we’re thrilled and here’s bending an elbow to you!


There is no shortage of wicked problems. Or good ideas. What would a digital platform look like for MIT’s powerhouse of innovative and entrepreneurial minds to collectively problem-solve the challenges faced by under-served communities without clean water, health care or reliable energy? That was the starting point for Idea Couture, the strategic innovation and multi-disciplinary design team that built and continues to power the MIT Global Challenge.

Recently honored with a prestigious IDSA 2011 International Design Excellence Award (Silver), in the category of Best Interactive Product Experience, the MIT Global Challenge is a digital co-creation platform that inspires, enables and supports the global MIT community to apply innovation as public service and drive solutions to the greatest global challenges.

Read the full announcement here.

IDEAS and Global Challenge Teams – Delivering Impact

Thanks to all the teams that recently providing some exciting information about the progress you’ve made over the last year to tackle barriers to well-being in communities around the world. Here’s a round-up of some of the good stuff we’ve learned:

6Dot (Braille Labeler)

· Milestones. In the spring of 2011 6Dot moved into new offices of the Stanford student venture incubator, SSE Labs. 6Dot has gained awareness through participation in three major conferences and expos, including the Stanford Cool Projects Expo, the California Transcribers and Educators for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CTEVBI) conference and the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Diabilities Conference.

· Impact. 6Dot has begun low-volume production up to 250 of their Braille labeling devices for market. As of April 2011 they had secured more than 70 pre-sale commitments.

· Income. In May 2011 6Dot won $10,000 in the Stanford Product Showcase.

· Press. The 6dot Braille labeler was featured in a TV report by, which features “Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science.”


· Milestones. On May 11 BLISS introduced the Sozankaar collection of bags. Sozankaar means, “skilled with the needle” in Dari. BLISS has operationalized its partnership with Boston-based charity Barakat to provide its curriculum and training program in participating schools in Pakistan. On September 7, BLISS founder Saba Gul and BLISS were commended by the U.S. State Department in a gathering that featured Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. BLISS raised $8k as a finalist in the Unreasonable Institute marketplace, earning a coveted spot in their summer Institute.

· Income. $8,000 Unreasonable Institute;

· Press. BLISS founder Saba Gul (SM ’09) featured in the March/April edition of MIT’s Technology Review.
Founder Saba Gul’s International Women’s Day post for ThinkChangePakistan.

EmpleoListo! (AssuredLabor)

  • Milestones. Launched in Nicaragua and Mexico, AssuredLabor/EmpleoListo! has signed up over 100,000 job seekers. More than 40 prestigious employers, from Philip Morris International to Alcatel-Lucent to MacDonalds and Wal*Mart as well as numerous national and local businesses use the service to recruit candidates. Now has 14 full-time employees based in 4 countries, including: Nicaragua, Mexico, Pakistan and the United States. In October 2010 won the Omidyar Fastpitch Competition.

· Impact. Hundreds of successful job matches made.

  • Income. Raised $1M from prestigious angel investors and Venture Capital funds across 3 continents.

· Press. Recently profiled for their work with MIT’s Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development by the MIT News Office; featured in Fast Company, “Text Here for a New Job”; and VentureBeat, “A Mobile LinkedIn for the Developing World”.

Continue reading ‘IDEAS and Global Challenge Teams – Delivering Impact’

Sign off Hand off

Shillong Entrepreneurship AdvertisementThree years at MIT goes faster than a shopping cart strapped with twin jet engines. And, trust me, its just as fun! Well, as you may have guessed, something is up, which is true. I’ll be moving on from MIT at the end of June, looking to apply my interests in art + technology + participation in development in other fields and other settings. Kate will be stepping up to manage the planning and day to day operations of IDEAS and the MIT Global Challenge for 2011-2012 and beyond. For all of you who have worked with Kate in the past, you know this is a great thing – for Kate and for IDEAS! For those of you who may not have had the pleasure, you’re in for a treat.

I remember that when I started here, the position description and conceptualization of the Global Challenge were in shambles – a perfect fit! As someone who loves to initiate, create, instigate – this whole IDEAS and Global Challenge initiative was well-matched to my skills and interests at the time. Coming off of several years working globally in the field of democratic governance with a (pretty deep) side trip into arts education and community engagement, I felt ready for the support and backing of an institutional context with the scope and creativity that building a new program could provide. Could anyone ask for more than that institutional context be MIT? I was eager to learn more about, and from, other resources here as well – homes of innovation like CoLab, D-Lab, and the International Development Initiative.

It has been a pleasure to work with these groups – as well as our partners the MIT150, the MIT Alumni Association, and the host, the MIT Public Service Center – to give shape to the Global Challenge over the last three years. When I first encountered the idea it was a loosely structured proposal built around the success of the IDEAS Competition. As I write, the Global Challenge is a set of strong relationships, a robust online platform, a cohort of 14 incredible teams, and a clear vision for how innovation competitions can serve as a platform for community-wide service and real-world change. I can’t wait to see it grow!

Somoho Mountain of HopeThe work that I see at MIT around community and international development has tremendous potential. From personal devices that increase workplace productivity in resource scarce environments to large-scale infrastructure that transforms community access to goods such as clean, safe, and renewable energy. I see young people and their mentors engaged in deep work to rethink global development, from the ground up. As much as there is great hope in the point solutions and dazzling technology, the complexity and scale of change needed to bring the benefits of modern knowledge to resource-strapped environments is astounding. I am humbled and enlivened by the ways I see today’s innovators at MIT hitting these challenges head-on:

Maa-Bara with its vision for community-scaled, modular closed-loop agriculture. Jeevikah and their efforts to conceive of temporary and very-large-scale water catchment systems for arid regions. Sanergy and their novel way to bring better sanitation to peri-urban settlements while producing energy and fertilizer for a profit. 6dot and their braille labeling solution that excites and responds to user needs for an affordable, portable and fast labeling device. And AssuredLabor, a service that connects workers in emerging markets with jobs using mobile phones. EGG-energy, which brings renewable energy to off-grid markets through a scalable battery leasing service.

These are a few of the projects that inspire me – sophisticated solutions to persistent problems that respond to an opportunity and a community context to support human development in some way. It has been an a privilege to watch these and other student projects grow from nascent ideas to – if not yet full-blown solutions, to flourishing pilot projects. They’re the kind of projects I’d expect to encounter in my travels – from the SOMOHO Mountain of Hope in Soweto to training programs in Shillong to farming innovation where I make my home in Vermont – not the stuff of top-flight engineering. Its heartening to know that the world’s problems are MIT’s problems. That a global challenge can be seen as a local challenge. And that students here have the drive to learn from and work in partnership with communities everywhere.

FiddleheadsI’d like to thank my colleagues at MIT150, the MIT Alumni Association, and the Public Service Center for making my time here so rewarding. I’d especially like to thank the students who have shared your passion and talents – your dreams for a better world -  and for placing your trust in the experiment that is the Global Challenge. Kate, here’s bending an elbow to you, and wishing you every success as you steer this program forward at this remarkable institution.

Cheers, and let’s keep in touch!


Recap of a Launch

Its been a remarkable six months. Here’s a recap including links to some fun background and outcomes. Thanks to every at MIT and beyond who helped make this year a success, in particular our partners at the MIT150, the MIT Alumni Association, and Idea Couture along with our many sponsors. Download a copy of the interim report here.

Overall Visitor Traffic for the Period


And the Winners Are…
(Browse teams here:

$5000 Community Choice Awards

  2. AQUA

$5000, $7500 and $10,000 IDEAS Juried Awards

  1. BIODIESEL – $5000
  2. EYECATRA – $5000
  3. HYDROHARVEST – $5000
  5. SAFE WATER WORLD – $5000
  7. SOLAR AUTOCLAVE – $7500
  8. INNOBOX – $10,000
  9. LOW-COST AUTOCLAVE – $10,000
  10. ASSISTIVE TECH – $10,000

$10,000 Global Challenge Juried Awards

  3. PRACTICAL ENERGY NETWORK – winner of the School of Engineering’s Global Villages Challenge
  4. INDIAN MOBILE INITIATIVE – congratulations on your sweep in all three award categories!
  5. MAA-BARA – Winner of the Mohammad Yunus Challenge to Alleviate Poverty through Improved Agricultural Processes

Community Choice Voting Participation – Vote Sources


Community Choice Voting Results


Continue reading ‘Recap of a Launch’

Ideas: Unleashing Creativity through Competitions

Dr Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director of Global Community Initiatives at Microsoft (and recent interviewee of our own Sneha Kannan!) has some insights into student innovation, development, and social change in today’s Huffington Post!

On May 2 as part of MIT’s 150 year anniversary celebrations I will be speaking to students who have entered the MIT IDEAS Competition and Global Challenge — which support innovation and entrepreneurship as a public service. This year more than 80 teams have entered ideas that address barriers to well-being in communities in 24 countries. 46 of them have qualified to enter final proposals.

What is unique about this is that the competition is sparking collaboration among students at MIT and the worldwide MIT alumni network, as well as communities around the world. Opening up the participation to the larger community is interesting and an innovative way for a university to engage a much larger audience. Over the last decade we’ve seen more and more universities and companies launching competitions to develop ‘ideas’ to solve some of the most intractable social problems that we face.

Read the full article here.

What’s in a pitch?

One of the ways IDEAS and the Global Challenge staff and volunteers work closely with students is to help them develop their project proposals from nascent ideas to polished presentations that stand on their own. An important piece of followup work is to translate dense and detailed proposals into digestible and engaging pitches.

Our question for Challengers this week is, what exactly makes a good pitch? Walk us through your basic qualities of good pitch writing and delivery, soup to nuts. We’ll use your input in our Pitch Kitchen series where, in partnership with other resources across MIT, we offer students a forum to polish their pitches against the buffing surfaces of wizened professionals.

“Call the question” is a new series we’re experimenting with, to get insights into how innovation for development and invention and entrepreneurship as public service happens – at MIT and elsewhere. We encourage questions from the specific (how do I choose my corporation type?) to the strategic (where should I pilot an innovative water desalinization technology?). Got a question you’d like to have answered?  Send an email to and we’ll consider posting it here. Either way, we’ll let you know.

The Farmhack@MIT Show

Its going to be a blast! If you can’t make it check out the show deck and join us for pitches at 6:30 online.

Farmhack@MIT Ignite! Pitches


Pitch Kitchen at MIT

AQUA PitchThere is a growing ecology of resources at MIT that support student ventures – from grounded ideation in programs like D-Lab to launch mechanisms like the $100k business plan competition. The idea behind Pitch Kitchen is to create an informal environment where students can trial their venture pitches in from of a mixed audience – representatives across these resources – and receive helpful feedback that sets them up for success down the road.

We had our first Pitch Kitchen in February 16. Peter Kang of Team AQUA presented the idea and business model for his project – an online game that is one part education tool and another part charity platform. In the room were representatives from $100k Emerging Markets Track, the Entrepreneurship Center, a communications expert from CSAIL, and yours truly from IDEAS/GC.

Kudos to Peter for his stamina – after presenting his 8-minute pitch he endured nearly a solid hour of intense questioning from panelists – all with the intent of helping Peter and team AQUA sharpen their message around a few key areas:

  • Community connection and impact
  • Transparency and accountability in income and expenditures
  • Representing communities without exploiting ie “gamifying” communities
  • Business and sustainability model
  • Translation of online income into on-the-ground impact

Interested in experiencing the crucible? Join us for the next Pitch Kitchen on Wednesday, 3/16 from 5:00-7:00pm in 4-145. Questions? Email lhtorres at mit dot edu.


Hey there’s a great event coming up at MIT in early March. Its called Farmhack, and the purpose is to bring together New England small-scale farmers and MIT engineers to identify projects for collaboration. There seems to be a consensus that the equipment available is costly, or simply does not respond well to the needs, constraints, and conditions of America’s small acreage farmers. Some of the areas that have come up include seeding technologies, soil monitoring systems, lifestock monitoring systems, irrigation systems. And more! So, if you are a New England farmer or an MIT engineer interested in using small-scale farms as laboratories for innovation, join us! Here are the details.

Farmers -

Do you come away from visits to other farms inspired by a tool or system that you just saw?  Have you invented things on your farm?  Can you describe some challenges on your farm that a team of farmers and engineers might be able to address with a new tool?

Engineers and Designers -

Do you have technical skills that you want to apply to the real world in real time? Are you interested in a direct relationship with the solutions our society needs? Have you considered applying your skill-set to sustainable agriculture?

Continue reading ‘Farmhack@MIT’