For the innovators, entrepreneurs, and world-changers, the Conrad Challenge is a perfect competition for you. The challenge provides a space for students to apply scientific and innovative thinking to real-world problems, changing the world before even stepping onto a college campus.
What is the Conrad Challenge?
The Conrad Challenge is an annual competition challenges students to create and build innovative solutions and apply their scientific, social, and economic knowledge to solve real-world problems. The challenge was founded in honor of a late NASA astronaut, Charles "Pete" Conrad, the third person to walk on the moon. Founded in 2007 by the Conrad Foundation and Conrad’s wife, Nancy, his legacy of innovation and exploration is embodied in the Conrad Challenge, which encourages students to think creatively and apply STEM skills to make a positive impact on society.
The competition is divided into four important categories of social issues, Aerospace and Aviation, Cyber-Technology and Security, Energy and Environment, and Health and Nutrition. Each team selects one of these categories and develops a product or service that addresses a specific problem or need within that field. Teams are also required to create a business plan, marketing strategy, and prototype of their solution, which they present to a panel of judges at the final competition.
The Conrad Challenge is an opportunity for students to develop important skills like critical and creative thinking, business development, public speaking, and teamwork. The competition provides mentorship and resources to help students throughout the process, and winning teams receive cash prizes and other awards. Additionally, the Conrad Foundation offers a network of alumni and partners that can help passionate students expand upon their ideas and grow to be actual businesses.
Who is Eligible to Participate in the Conrad Challenge?
The Conrad Challenge is open to everyone all around the world and between 13-18 years old. You may enter as an individual or part of a team of up to five people. Each team must have an adult mentor, who will supervise and guide the team's work throughout the competition. Eventually, the competition will have an entry fee, which is currently $499, but the Challenge provides financial support for teams who need it. Contact this email if necessary.
Is the Conrad Challenge Prestigious?
The Conrad Challenge is widely considered a highly prestigious competition in the fields of STEM and entrepreneurship. The challenge offers a unique opportunity for young innovators to showcase their skills, connect with leading professionals in the fields of science, technology, and entrepreneurship, and gain recognition for their achievements. The challenge is recognized globally for its rigorous judging criteria, with entries being evaluated based on their innovation, feasibility, and potential for impact. Winning teams receive significant recognition and support, including access to mentorship, funding, and resources to develop their solutions further.
The Conrad Challenge has a long history of promoting innovation and entrepreneurship among young people and is supported by leading universities, corporations, and organizations in STEM and entrepreneurship. The challenge partners with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Florida, and the University of California, Berkeley, and large corporations such as Dell, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin, who provide support and resources to help students develop their solutions. Through its history, dominance, and popularity, the Challenge has gained a reputation for excellence and is internationally regarded as one of the most impactful competitions in technological innovation.
Timeline and Structure of the Conrad Challenge
The Conrad Challenge runs annually, taking place between October and April, and split into four different stages.
Activation Stage: The first round closes in mid-October. During this round, you will begin your challenge, and gather a team of 2-5 students and one adult advisor. Register your team into the Conrad Challenge. Quick note that the earlier you register, the earlier you could get approved, and the earlier you can get started in the next round.
Lean Canvas Stage: This second round closes in mid-November. During this round, you will ideate with your team to come up with different solutions to problems in each of the four categories listed above, then create lean canvases to briefly describe and answer questions about your idea. Finally, submit your lean canvases and come up with a final team name and category for approval from the judges. If accepted, you can proceed to the next stage.
Innovation Stage: This next round closes in mid-January. Here, you will create your innovation brief and video recording, and only for the Cyber-technology teams, an innovation website. You will answer ten essential questions about your innovation and film a 3-minute video with some sort of prototype to demonstrate your business. The innovation brief is the most important document that the judges will review to advance to the next round. This round is the first round with an entry fee, $499.
Power Pitch: If chosen for this round as a Finalist, the Power Pitch stage occurs in-person in April at the Innovation Summit in the Space Center Houston. Teams will gather with all other finalists to pitch live and in-person to a panel of judges.
Throughout the competition, teams have access to mentorship, resources, and workshops to help them develop their solutions and business plans. The competition culminates in an awards ceremony, where winners are recognized and receive support to further develop their solutions and named Pete Conrad Scholars.
Tips and Resources to Win the Conrad Challenge
Winning the Conrad Challenge requires a combination of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship skills. Here are some tips that can help you increase your chances of winning:
Start early: The Conrad Challenge is a highly competitive event, and teams that start early have an advantage. Begin by researching the selected challenge and identifying a problem that your team is passionate about solving. The competition has no stipulations about when you’re allowed to start brainstorming, prototyping, and getting ready for the competition, thus it is really never too early to begin preparing for such a prestigious event.
Focus on innovation: Judges are looking for unique and innovative solutions to the selected challenge. Be sure to think outside the box and come up with a solution that is creative and impactful. Focus on topics that are highly relevant to modern times in each respective category and come with a niche, specific, but highly applicable solution to your topic. Similar to above, the more time spent on research before the competition begins, the more you can focus on actual innovation.
Develop a strong business plan: In addition to a creative solution, teams must also have a solid business plan. This should include market research, financial projections, and a marketing strategy. Judges will evaluate the feasibility and potential profitability of the proposed solution. Research all associated costs, current solutions, other business plans for similar solutions, etc. This is almost the most important part of your entire competition. For the teams who need a website, creating a strong and compelling website that is able to showcase your product in a fun, enticing, and attention grabbing way can be just as important as the product itself.
Collaborate effectively: The Conrad Challenge is a team-based competition, and judges are looking for teams that can work together effectively. Ensure that all team members are actively involved in the project and that before you start, have set boundaries on each member's responsibilities. The first stage can sound pedantic, but finding a good team that you can work with is extremely important for future success. Make sure that all team members share the same drive and passion and can all work together to come up with an amazing solution.
Practice your pitch: The third and final round of the competition involves a video pitch and live pitch event, where teams present their solutions to a panel of judges. Be sure to practice your pitch extensively and prepare for any questions that judges might ask. Being prepared and charismatic shows your confidence and readiness for your product and potential as an entrepreneur for the future.
Be passionate about your solution: Judges are looking for teams that are passionate and committed to their solutions. Be sure to convey your enthusiasm and dedication to the project and the cause you are solving. Remember that these are real solutions to real social problems, thus showing excitement and passion shows the judges the care and dedication you have for your product and the potential it may have to change the world.
If you’re looking for another chance to create something novel and unique that can change the world, or want another opportunity to build your own independent project and research paper, then consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program. Last year over 2100 students applied for about 500 spots in the program. You can find the application form here.
Aaron Zheng is a sophomore at Harvard University, studying Bioengineering. He is passionate about biotechnology, business development, and aiding students get to college, regardless of background. In his spare time, he looks to read, journal, and explore the world.
Image: Conrad Challenge logo