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Participants at Red Bull Basement University in Toronto, Canada on December 15, 2019. // Maggie Stephenson / Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull Basement competition seeks innovation from student-led initiatives

By Rachneet Randhawa, November 10 2021—

Are you a youth innovator who dreams of being the change they wish to see in the world? Red Bull Basement empowers student innovators in all areas of study to kickstart their bold new ideas using technology, and to constructively challenge the status quo to drive positive change. 

In 2021, the Global Final will be held in Istanbul, Turkey, from Dec. 13–15 and consists of an immersive three days full of workshops and mentorship sessions with the world’s most visionary thought leaders. Alongside systematic inequalities of the 21st century also comes creative ideas to pressing, unmet needs. Students collaborate to find solutions for topics like Body and Mind, Clean Water, Education, Empowerment, Energy and Smart Cities. 

The climax is a Global Final where finalist teams bring their budding ideas to life by pitching to global judges. Red Bull Basement was launched in Sao Paulo Brazil in 2015 as a supporting effort to developers and coders who used their tech skills to solve social and environmental challenges. The competition has now spread globally to 44 participating countries including hotspots like Berlin, Germany and Toronto, Canada. The Gauntlet sat down for an interview with past participants Ryan Spooner and Ria Kapoor, both recent graduates from Ryerson University and also in the top ten national contenders representing Canada, to learn more. 

Spooner, who works as a content production assistant at the University of Toronto, and Kapoor, a junior designer at Deloitte, graduated from the media production program at their university and participated in the competition as their capstone project. Spooner defines the competition as being for social tech innovation, specifically for and by university students. He described the preparation leading up to the final pitch competition as a series of events including workshops and mentors in niche specializations. 

The final event is a multi-day event in which you reunite with all of the national winners and partake in networking and a series of pitching. It’s a Red Bull-sponsored incubator of sorts with the winner of the competition getting seed funding and other resources. 

“We get to see where the mindset [and] what the pressing needs of other countries and cities are,” said Kapoor. 

Despite being a boot-camp for startups focused on tech-based platforms, you don’t need a background in STEM or even need to know how to code  — the judges are looking for those who have the grit and ingenuity to develop a prototype. 

Potential competitors can participate individually or in groups. However, the pitch at the Global Final is only reserved for up to two team members to represent the business idea. Applicants must submit a short 60-second video explaining the meaningful impact behind their idea on their phone, laptop, or digital device. Eligible ideas will be considered and officially selected by a panel of local judges who will select the national finalist in each designated country to attend the Global Final based on the criteria of feasibility, impact, creativity and shout-outs. Shoutouts are votes from the public community which can boost your points. 

As for Spooner and Kapoor’s business idea, they claimed it’s in the process of evolving. 

“It’s a social impact game that aims to reconnect the youth with their natural environment,” said Kapoor. 

Their idea was a social RPG focused on water, with the goal of understanding and appreciating water in their city thus acknowledging the present feelings towards the current state of the environment. 

“The original idea had to do with what’s known as the ‘Lost Rivers of Toronto,’” said Spooner. “Essentially, the city is built upon a bunch of buried rivers because that’s how most cities form.” 

Most forms of media consumption are passive, however, Spooner explains games are unique in that they “open up gateways to learning and experience and empathy that you wouldn’t be able to through traditional means,” as you are proactively engaging with the material.

The best part of the competition for Kapoor was honing her public speaking skills and learning how to pitch a product which is a valuable skill. For Spooner, it was projecting how he potentially aims to have his career play out, meeting like-minded individuals and finding multiple avenues for projects he is passionate about. 

The most difficult aspect of the competition for Spooner was the time zone difference and the nonstop grind at the actual competition in Europe. Also, trying to make yourself stand out as viable competitors who are just as eager and passionate about their ideas as anyone else in the competition. For Kapoor, it was going out of her comfort zone which only gets easier every time you attempt something new. 

“Believing in your idea, which was half the battle,” she said. “I don’t think we would have gotten as far as we have if we didn’t exude that energy for the love of what we were doing.” 

For parting advice, Spooner mentioned two key things — the human perspective is still number one, and don’t ever get caught in your head, continue to create and iterate. He added it’s always good to have a personal connection to what you’re pursuing and that you should put in the effort as there’s always opportunities out there for your business idea to scale. 

For Kapoor, she mentioned having your own knowledge and experiences with the product or service of the solution is important. For example, before building the prototype, they have on-the-ground conversations with organizations and even filmed a documentary to understand the root of the issue. 

As for this year’s competition, the finalists were publicly announced on Nov. 2. Finalist teams have approximately five weeks from Nov. 2 to Dec. 13 to prepare their prototype idea for the Global Final in which Red Bull Basement will provide starter funds, mentorship sessions with international experts in relevant fields, networking opportunities and working space. Mentors are international experts from various backgrounds including investment, funding, hardware and software technology and engineering, of which each team selects two experts for guidance. The winning team of the 2021 Global Final pitch competition will receive a custom package of resources to realize and bring to life their unique idea.

To learn more about Red Bull Basement, check out their website. Regardless of being a final contender for the Global Final 2021 at the end of the day, everybody gets a chance to sharpen their skills, gain fresh insights and expand their network. 

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