UN decided what the world needs to focus on. Paris made an agreement and the world pledged to focus its energy on 17 most crucial areas of development. The term was coined – Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to Mr Flemming from Denmark, millennials are going to play the lead role in achieving these goals by 2030. It is in the hands of millennials that the future of the planet lies.. and hence he thought of an experiment. Something that has been never tried before. Something which is massive in scale and unpredictable in its outcome. An experiment of hosting highly selected 1000 people from all over the world and putting them through a unique process of innovation. An experiment which is aimed towards creating high impact solutions for the SDGs. And thus, UNLEASH was born

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Fastforward few months, I got an email from Unleash. I was selected to be a part of the founding cohort. Given my background in automotive, I was put under Urban Sustainability theme along with 120 other global talents. I flew to Copenhagen for the kickoff and soon realized this was going to be intense. The Unleash process was kept a secret until we reached Denmark. Slowly everything started to unfold. Highly punctual Danes with a great sense of humor made the 1000 of us from 130 different countries and cultures feel at home, comfortable but motivated.

Soon we were split into themes and transported to folk highschools all over Denmark where we were further divided into smaller sub themes. I fell under Accessibility, Transportation and Mobility – or ATM. Folk highschools are unique places in Denmark which have a kind of “open syllabus – open age group” model imparting relevant life skills to the students. And they were strict – we had to be present at the morning assembly exactly at 8:30 am after breakfast. We started our day by singing folk songs and the school principle then welcomed us.

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Team Transportation and Mobility

The Unleash process further unfolded. There were going to be three “gate checks” before the final sprint. The first gate check was ice-breaker – getting to know our fellow cohort and brainstorming insights/problems that urban cities face. As a homework, we all had posted insights on the Unleash web portal, which served as a starting point. 30 people in ATM, 30 insights, grouped into sets of 3 and discussed by smaller groups taking turns throughout the morning – resulted in 5 most crucial problems urban cities face. Then everyone voted on which they would like to tackle and thus teams were formed! – And then the battle began!

Now we were marching towards “The Gate of WHY”. The idea I was working on was to increase the efficiency of public transit and motivate more people to ride it. To pass the Gate of WHY, we had to list all the problems currently seen by cities and which are roadblocks for an efficient public transit system. As engineers, we are used to jumping to solutions, so this was tough. We were leashed! Stick to problems – our ringmaster told us. Focus on the WHY, not on the HOW. A full day of focused efforts on the WHY resulted in a deep understanding of the most cruicial problems cities are facing – and a diverse team gave a truly global perspective (our team members were from US, UK, India, Dubai and Australia)

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Next was the “Gate of HOW” or the “Gate of Solution”. Those were intense two days, and nights, coming up with three detailed solutions to solve the framed problem. We had to select one from the three and justify the selection. We spoke with customers, had skype calls with real stakeholders in Boston and Melbourne which helped us focus on the line of action. Passing the Gate of Solution was not easy without nightouts and caffeine shots. But finally the “gatekeeper” blessed us and our team was ready for the final sprint.

 

The final sprint was prototyping and testing the solution and finally coming up with a business plan to support it. We used prototyping tools like Balsamique to showcase out solution. We took surveys and spoke with fellow talents for getting feedback on implementation.

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The Semifinalists

We were supposed to get judged in innovation, ease of implementation and global impact. By undergoing a rigorous process of understanding the underlying problems in Urban areas and then brainstorming solutions to address those problems our solutions were innovative. We designed our business plan such that we clearly showed the ease of implementation by focusing on a beachhead market for our pilot – a market where we had seen a clear interest after our phone calls – and then showing how the solution can be tailored globally and to developing nations – thus creating an impact

Our final deliverable resulting from all the 7 day madness was a 3 minute pitch! All the 1000 talents – divided into 200 teams – then gathered in Aarhus – the cultural capital of Europe, to pitch in front of investors.

This was the real deal. Just a week back we were 1000 unknown faces. Now we were a family. We had spent 10 days locked in a room, solving some of the most pressing issues the world is seeing. We had a real business plan ready and interest from real stakeholders.

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The Urban Sustainability Team

Who could have thought that impactful solutions can be developed even with a massive group of unknown, but smart folks who are forced to co-create! … I think Mr. Flemming did!

When we have a problem, we find a solution – and that’s how one should build a business! Unleash taught us the right way. Look at the pain point and try to solve it – rather than “build an app (solution) for – lets think on what we can solve using this app”

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