As the field narrows and we get closer to the knock-out round, I imagine all the teams are hearing this question more frequently. I also imagine that the answers vary as widely as the teams who are entered in this $10 million competition.
I started thinking seriously about this question over a year ago. Ann had just called me – she was having a melt-down, “What are we doing in this competition? We are in way over our heads.” I knew how to respond because I had struggled with the same feelings several times myself.
We are not a car company. The West Philly Hybrid X Team is made up of educators and students. We entered the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE not to launch a new car company, but to create an unparalleled educational experience for our students. We wanted to demonstrate the value of engaging kids – their creativity and their intellect – in solving some of the world’s most pressing problems. We wanted to be a part of the collective push to revolutionize the automotive industry.
A year ago I realized, by that definition, we had already won. We engaged an amazing group of students to develop our vision about hybrid cars and how to improve urban air quality. We developed a business plan to manufacture our cars in our community and provide pipelines from high school to the good manufacturing jobs that Philadelphia needs. But more than that, we were being taken seriously. The local and national media were treating us as true contenders. Our students received unprecedented opportunities to speak at universities, national conferences and in the community. Sponsors and donors committed to support our vision and volunteers and students continued to pour tremendous time and effort into this project.
We have already won.
Most of you probably still want to know what we will do if we take first place and receive the millions. Well, stranger things have happened. And since I do believe in Divine intervention, I would never rule that out. However, the reality is that we are competing against teams of engineers, well-funded start-up companies and major universities.
Our goal is to ride the rollercoaster and show the world what an urban high school team is capable of. And when that ride comes to its end, we will begin work on our next dream – to start a school. We’ve learned a bit about hybrid vehicles over the past twelve years. We’ve learned a lot more about how to educate youth. The world is in need of 100 MPGe vehicles. Philadelphia needs new manufacturing jobs.
But, most of all, America is in desperate need of dynamic schools that work. We can’t wait to bring our winning team to that challenge.