We won the Solve Challenge — and now we’re partnering with MIT

We’re excited to announce that our team has partnered with MIT, after pitching at their global Solve Challenge in New York — thanks so much to all of you who voted for us!

We applied because we felt that we’d really benefit from MIT’s support, especially with funds and scaling, in order to continue building the first game to inspire young girls to code using practical languages. Sixty out of almost a thousand applicants worldwide were selected as finalists to pitch in New York, under the categories of “Women and Technology”, “Brain Health”, “Sustainable Urban Communities” and “Youth, Skills and Workforce of the Future”.

Priya, our new developer, and I stayed in Manhattan, and worked together on our three minute pitch and Q&As before the event which was held at Alexandria Centre for Science and Technology. We were the first team to pitch in the morning, which was pretty nerve-wracking! Thankfully, it all went well — Priya did an amazing job and the demo of the game and kitten gifs made the judges and audience laugh.

The standard of the other pitches were incredibly high — my favourites within our category were Girls Who Build, who are developing creative engineering curricula to inspire girls to pursue STEM careers, and Saathi, who are making biodegradable sanitary pads made from banana fibre for women in rural India. I’d never heard so many brilliant, inspirational pitches during just one event, and it made me feel honoured to be in the same room as all of the teams participating.

The judges had an hour to select the winners, so we took a break and came back in after lunch. Ursula Burns, who was the chairwoman and CEO of Xerox, and the first African American CEO to head a Fortune 500 Company, was presenting the certificates. Whilst she was calling out the first names, I remember trying not to care too much and reminding myself how far we had come.

When Erase All Kittens was called out towards the end, Priya and I looked at each other — we were so happy and sleep deprived (night-before nerves) that it was hard to stop from smiling manically for the rest of the day. We also won the MIT Arts and Culture prize along with two other teams, during the evening networking event — it had been an incredible day.

One of the other highlights was meeting some of our judges afterwards, including Cady Coleman, astronaut and scientist, and Obi Felten, Director of X (formerly Google X) the team behind self-driving cars and Project Loon. Cady recommended that we ask our audience to send in funny videos of their pet kittens to use in the game, which we’re going to do from now on, so get yours ready…

The talks and panels during the event were brilliant, with speakers including Indra Nooyi, CEO and Chairperson of PepsiCo, The Honorable Julie Bishop MP, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and L.Rafael Reif, President of MIT. One of my favourite quotes was from Premal Shah, president of Kiva.org. He said that “social entrepreneurs are professional mistake makers”, and that we should never give up on an idea we believe in.

That theme, and way of thinking, was reiterated in a talk by Google X, during the post-conference workshops, the next day. We learnt about the many ups and downs of Project Loon and Google Glass, and that the team celebrates failure by holding a ‘Day of the Dead’ party for ideas which have failed. I absolutely love this idea and it really resonated with me, as I think that nowhere near enough people — children or adults — are told that it’s actually a good thing to fail, since failing teaches you how to succeed. Although there may even be a touring Museum of Failure coming your way soon…

Priya and I left for London the morning after the workshop, feeling elated and inspired. The next steps with our new partnership will be working out what will most benefit our business, with access to MIT’s community of leaders. We will also be visiting their offices in Boston in May, next year — really looking forward to the next conference!

Dee Saigal is Chief Scribbler at Erase All Kittens