Just after winning $45K at Netsquared: (Right to Left) Dieterich Lawson, Alex Harsha, Isaac Holeman, as well as the cast from The Extraordinaries, winners of the 15k second prize. Photo via elstudio.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Netsquared conference in 2008 with the featured project Squarepeg, and it was a wonderful experience. We didn't take home a top cash prize that year, but I learned so much and met so many great people. So when I helped get FrontlineSMS:Medic started and we were in the process of meeting new people, continuing to explore our field, and looking for funding, I knew the opportunity to attend N2Y4 would be great. The community certainly didn't disappoint. I feel like I am a slightly more thoughtful person for having had the pleasure of brain-storming, competing, laughing, eating, and drinking with all of you for this short whirlwind conference.
Our team also walked away from the conference with our first major organizational funding: the $25k top prize based on the Netsquared conference vote, the top $15K prize from the Microsoft Mobile Development Challenge, and a $5K social justice award from the French American Charitable Trust (FACT). Thank you, thank you, thank you, and THANK YOU!
For all of our friends who could not attend the conference and for those of you who attended and are (like us) still trying to piece together a flurry of ideas and experiences into a few memorable lessons, I'd like to share a few observations about why I think we were successful.
APT stands for Accesible Para Todos (Accessible For All in Spanish): Sasha from VozMob coined (I think) this tech acronym during his closing pitch, and I picked it up just minutes later during our closing pitch, using it to describe FrontlineSMS:Medic. What does APT mean for us? We're working with a platform that is optimized for low-end and prevalent phones, that supports many roman and non-roman languages, and we're trying to bring these tools to people who might not be able to access them without a little support. Often the very DNA of an innovation (for example, look to our friends The Extraordinaries, also winners at this conference) requires a tool like a smart phone that just isn't going to be accessible to everyone. That's okay. But all of us can brainstorm about how to become more APT, and it was wonderful to have the Netsquared community affirm all the thought we've put into this topic.
We're young and scrappy: I'm 23, and no one on our team is much older. On one hand, this means we know how to gird ourselves in caffeine and put the pedal to the metal 24/7 when we have a deadline. On the other hand, our project doesn't have an MD, PhD, or M.A. at the helm. Many people would see that as a risk for such an ambitious project, and perhaps they would be right. The Netsquared voters, Microsoft, and FACT all decided to trust the core platform we work with, our successful pilot, and the passion with which we speak about our work rather than some of the traditional credentials of experience and expertise (initials like MD). Thank you for taking that risk, for being committed to meritocracy. We're going to work tirelessly over the next year to prove your investment worthwhile. To that end... why don't you help us succeed!
Here are a few ways you can help:
1) Go to hopephones.org, print out a pre-paid shipping label, and send us your old mobile phone so that we can repurpose it for global health. Consider contacting us to get a donation box at your work, school, or Church. If you blog or tweet, why not let the world know about our recycling campaign?
2) If you are a developer, designer, global health activist, philanthropist, or experienced entrepreneurial type, and are interested in contributing, we'd love to see how you can help. If you gave us a card or email at the conference, don't worry, we'll be in touch ;-) Thank you once more friends and funders for an incredible conference. - Isaac, and the FrontlineSMS:Medic team