Global entrepreneurship competition pivoted from a three-day campus event to two weeks of creative and expanded virtual sessions.



University of Delaware Horn Entrepreneurship’s 2020 Diamond Challenge this year conquered its own big challenge: pivoting from a three-day campus program to two weeks of creative and expanded virtual sessions.

“It brought us our own challenge,” Julie Frieswyk, Horn’s assistant director for youth programs, said of coronavirus in opening the two-hour award ceremony Saturday for the Diamond Challenge, the world’s top-rated global entrepreneurship competition for high schoolers. “This time can feel a bit sour, like lemons, but our team has been working to make sweet lemonade.”

Also sweet: large cash prizes that can be used for the students’ concepts or their higher education. The prizes reinforce the Challenge’s global reach: Winners came from 10 countries and seven states.

This year’s Challenge started out with 766 submissions, involving 5,000-plus high school students. That’s up from 639 submissions last year, involving 4,000-plus students, according to Rachel Strauss, Diamond Challenge program coordinator for Horn.

The accompanying virtual Summit, a professional development and networking event, involved 73 semifinalist teams from 30 countries and 18 states, up from last year’s 58 teams from 21 countries and 18 states.

“Thank you for your encouragement, support and keeping up our spirit by not cancelling the summit, and instead making it virtual as per everyone’s comfort,” said Zain Samdani of Saudi Arabia, part of a team called Exoheal that worked on medical robotics.

“COVID-19 has brought all the world together to fight against it, and I hope we all together will win over it soon, with such care and understanding for each other and efforts for everyone’s safety and better future,” said teammate Faria Zubair.

The Challenge’s finals were streamed from multiple locations with inspiring keynotes by Mitch Kick, a senior vice president at SAP, and Hazel Jennings, an information architect at Instagram.

“Disruption is increasingly becoming a way of life for all of us,” Kick said, referring to coronavirus, climate change and other issues. “All these challenges are calling for us to help out.” He asked his listeners whether their participation is “a box to check off or a springboard to something greater.”

Considering the sophistication of the entrepreneurs’ concepts and presentations, these high-school students are definitely aiming for something greater.

Kick offered a few “EGO boosts,” with his acronym encompassing an entrepreneurial mindset, growth mindset and ownership spirit. He suggested keeping a daily gratitude journal to “see resources that others overlook,” offering random acts of kindness to build a reputation as a giver and developing a morning ritual of setting goals. On, he said that he posts more ways to “help young people discover their own path and live lives of confidence.”

His speech ended with an anecdote about how he overcame being stuck in a comfort zone – he showed the chair he refused to leave – and urged his audience “to stand out.”

In the ensuing question-and-answer session, he said that “all real learning comes from mistakes,” a theme repeated by Jennings in the other keynote. “I failed hard,” she said. But she also grew.

Jennings, an English major who became Instagram’s first content strategist, promoted the importance of the liberal arts and humanities in a world that seems to revolve around technology. “True leaders don’t just think about what can be changed but also who is affected by that change,” she said. “Learn your humanities to learn about humans and learn how to solve problems for humans.”

Technology can be scary, she said, demonstrating with a story about young patients getting magnetic resonance imaging. Inventor Doug Dietz did psychological research and enlisted artists to add cheerful designs that dramatically calmed children going for their MRI.

Competition Results

Here are the winners announced at the finals of Horn Entrepreneurship’s 2020 Diamond Challenge.

Astrofilter, a North Carolina team, won the business entrepreneurship category and $11,000 for self-cleaning air filters for spacecraft ventilation systems. Fision Lens, an Illinois team, placed second and earned $7,000 for a plastic film that cheaply updates prescription glasses. Ditch Dat!, a Hawaii team, placed third and won $3,500 for a patent-pending and eco-friendly treatment for head lice.

Exoheal, a team from India and Saudi Arabia, won the social entrepreneurship category and $11,000 for a robotic device and app that speeds stroke victims’ recovery by 30 percent. InGenius Learn, a Virginia team, placed second and earned $7,000 for a hyper-personalized app to improve education. EZ Water, a team from Pakistan, placed third and won $3,500 for a system to make clean water affordable and accessible.

Topical prizes of $1,500 were awarded to semifinalists with significant promise. Chemours, the Delaware-based leader in using science and innovation to improve lives, offered the first topical prize in 2019. 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.

New topical prizes were sponsored by Gore, which had 40 associates involved in this year’s Diamond Challenge, and SAP, the world’s largest enterprise applications software company.

The Gore Topical Prize for Innovation Excellence in business entrepreneurship went to Sound: the Alternative Fire Extinguisher, a New Hampshire team with a fire extinguisher that uses sound waves. The Gore prize in social entrepreneurship went to UDTech Farm System, a team from Kenya that uses the internet of things to improve crop production.

The SAP Topical Prize for Experience Management in business entrepreneurship went to Locare, a California team with a smart band for special-needs children. The SAP prize in social entrepreneurship went to Talk to Me, a team from the Republic of Georgia with an app for children with deaf-mute parents. “The Diamond Challenge motivated me to bring my idea to life,” said Ana Abuashvili, one of the Talk to Me students, adding that the virtual mentoring “helped us to simplify and focus our ideas.”

Two virtual challenges debuted, run by Grace Zhang, a digital marketing intern at Horn Entrepreneurship. Claire Hollingsworth of Virginia, Gabriela Córdova of Guatemala and Sira Fernandez Martinez of Spain won $100 for creating high-energy TikTok videos promoting their entrepreneurial concepts. Toluwalase Oseni of Nigeria won $100 in a scavenger hunt searching for participants’ activities on Instagram.

“What a job it must be to switch gears and reinvent the machine!” Annamaria Miru, advisor to the Ditch Dat! team, wrote of Horn’s complex move to a virtual summit. “Your team is truly amazing!”

The Diamond Challenge’s presenting partners are the University of Delaware, Capital One and the Paul & Linda McConnell Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative at Horn Entrepreneurship. Other sponsors include Chemours, CSC, Gore, SAP and M&T Bank.

About Horn Entrepreneurship

Horn Entrepreneurship serves as the University of Delaware’s creative engine for entrepreneurship education and advancement. Built and actively supported by successful entrepreneurs and thought leaders, Horn Entrepreneurship empowers aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs as they pursue new ideas for a better world.