Ever since I came back from Austin after participating in the Dell Education Challenge, I have been asked by everyone I met about my experiences there and how did I go through the entire process. So, here is the next blog post dedicated to the same and to tell about the entire experience.
We have been associated with the Dell Social Innovation Challenge (DSIC) family for quite some time now. In fact, we were one of the top semi-finalists and winners of the Scale Phase Award at DSIC 2012 in May this year.
So, when DSIC announced its Fall Spotlight – Dell Education Challenge, we knew we had to participate in the same. The DEC was dedicated to the K-12 segment and any team/start-up that was working in the K-12 segment was invited to participate. We, being absolutely focused on the K-12 segment in India, were a good fit for the challenge and knew it was a good opportunity to showcase our work on a major international platform.
So, the 1st round involved applying on the DSIC website based on which 21 semi-finalists were chosen from across the globe, from mere ideas to fully functional projects. After this stage, every team was assigned a mentor to work with for a few days and finally make a 9 page Road Map to Success document based on the guidelines provided by the DEC.
So, after the submission of the Roadmap to Success, 4 teams were finally selected to be flown to Austin where the finals were to be held at Dell Worldwide Headquarters. That’s right, the same building where Michael Dell’s office is! It was exciting and fascinating.
The other finalists were from other parts of the world. Next Step Leaders team (represented by Shaun and Jen) was the one from Austin itself, e-Learning in Gaza was a diverse team with the representing members in the finals, Doga, being from Japan and Forward Tutoring Team were a nice bunch of friends from Dallas who were all based in various universities in USA.
I was quick to figure out that the VISA Process might be deterrent and applied for my VISA even before the final 4 teams were announced. That was a very close call. After fixing my visa biometric submission on 3rd December and interview on the 4th, a very nice American lady at the VISA Interview ensured that I got a quick one and my VISA attached passport was returned to me on 5th! Can you believe that?
I was all geared up for my trip on 8th night. Every Indian whom I met on the way was generous enough to wish me luck – right from the Airport Ground Staff to the Customs Officer.
It was an amazing 31 hour journey via Zurich (which by the way is a very beautiful city) and Washington. Arrival in Austin was smooth and the ride from airport to the hotel was hogged by one thought – ‘Finally, America!’
Unfortunately, I could not sleep during that night, or any other night for that matter. No, it was not performance pressure but it was the near-12-hour time gap which meant that it was afternoon in USA when it was actually my time to sleep and incidentally it was the busiest period during my trip to Austin with presentations, interviews and all other important activities being lined up in the afternoons.
So, the very next morning I met up with Bailey who was our DEC Contact throughout the trip. I also met Doga, David and JJ at our Hotel Hyatt lobby from where we went to the RGK Centre for Philosophy and Community Centre where we met the 4th team – Jen and Shaun. The morning was spent in doing video interviews with Christian who is the Marketing Director of DSIC. These videos will be released soon as I remember Christian mention the same. I am very eager to see the same!
After a quick lunch, we moved to the Dell Headquarters at Round Rock in Austin Metropolitan Area. You are right; this is the same building where Michael Dell’s office is. We moved to one of the Closed Door meeting spaces in the building where the final pitches were delivered one by one by the 4 finalists including myself. It was amazing and I was in my flow while presenting Gyan Lab as well as answering the questions asked by the Judging Panel.
This marked the end of the presentations after which everyone was free. We had dinner at an amazing Argentine restaurant named Buenos Aires.
The next day we had a Dell Chatter Interview with Michele, Paige and Amy. We were also paid a visit by Catherine who is the Vice-President of Dell’s Marketing. We also did interviews for the Flip-Cam and ate Vegetable and Bacon Tacos which were amazing! Yeah, Austin is really famous for its street food especially in the Mexican category with burritos, tacos, nachos, fajitas, quesadillas, etc being extremely popular.
During the afternoon we had a mock interview drills and lessons on how to present ourselves for various forms of interviews. Following this, the evening was time to chill with free food stalls, free drinks and concert shows by local stars such as Velejo and Bob Schneider followed by a rock concert featuring amazing stars like Chester Bennington, Mike Shinoda, Dave Navarro and others.
The next day was the one when the results were to be announced as well as the prime attraction of Dell World – Keynote Speech by President Bill Clinton was to be delivered. The morning was spent listening to the amazing keynote. The way Clinton spoke solidified my belief that he is the best orator alive.
The afternoon was the time when the results were announced and as you know we had a sweet time there finishing in second place while competing with teams across the world gave a solid feeling of satisfaction. This was followed by celebration with wine at Max’s Fine Wine.
I spent the next day roaming around downtown Austin and shopping for my family and friends. I also attended the closing keynote at Dell World by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Yes, I know you guessed it right – they are the authors of Freakonomics!!!
Next morning, I quietly bid goodbye to a sleeping Austin to catch my flight to Newark where I spent 8 hours before boarding my connecting flight back to Mumbai.
All in all, it was a fascinating experience and my 1st American trip was as good as it gets!