Nerves and the Finalist WIP Presentation Day

Shortly after submitting our initial application for the WIP, I was called off to India to repair one of our waste water treatment systems that we had been field testing for a year in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation Park in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. My WIP teammate Clement Cid had made many such trips as well. This time, a pump was not working and because logistics and training are complicated and expensive in the developing world, it was not getting fixed. This is exactly the problem that I had written about in our WIP application, and exactly the reason why I was days late in responding to June Sugiyama the director of the Foundation’s email notifying us that we had been selected as finalists!

SEVAThe day I finally checked my email, I had literally had my face within inches of the fecal water of our treatment system’s holding tank all day. Combined with very little to drink and over 100 degree weather in Ahmedabad (no humidity though!) I was pretty flustered. After walking home, showering, scrubbing my body raw, I flopped onto my hotel bed to check my email. All the days frustration evaporated into excitement when I saw the email from June and then my heart sank again when I saw the sent date, I had been doing field work and forgot to put my out of office reply on, it had been 2 days since June had tried to contact us! What did this say about me! Was this going to make Vodafone think I didn’t care!! Were they going to tell me that due to radio silence, they had selected some other team to be a finalist? I didn’t know, and I had still not fixed the root cause of the pump failure.

Anyway, of course these nightmares did not come true, and a couple weeks later, we had fixed the pump, and I was on a plane with Clement, my teammate, from Burbank to San Francisco to present the project to the competition judges. I was still highly concerned that my late response to June’s email had landed us squarely without a chance but I was confident in our project, and Clement and I had rehearsed, and thought of questions, and prepared, and we were ready.

On the day of the presentations, I was very nervous, but it obviously went well. We were the second presenters to go. We walked into a conference room, introduced ourselves to the friendly and frank judges, gave the talk, showed our prototype, were asked a series of very relevant questions, had a good discussion about the project with the judges, ate a delicious meal provided by the Foundation, and we were on our way. Everyone was very friendly, and everything was done to make sure that we were comfortable and able to present the best we could. I attribute how well our presentation went to how precisely June and the Foundation stick to their stated criteria for judging and how well we followed that. On the WIP website, they have a long list of exactly what kind of projects they are looking for. And throughout the application process June makes herself available to coach you and answer your questions about what they are looking for and what your strengths are. So, if I had any advice for this year’s applicants it would be: the Foundation and staff have the presentation day figured out, don’t worry about stupid things, and just prepare hard, listen to June’s advice, and know that the Foundation is truly telling you exactly what they want in their application instructions, so focus on those things!

seva_finkeCody Finke is the lead software engineer and director of SEVA, a sanitation project from Caltech that acts as a mobile maintenance guide and self-diagnosis technology to ensure functionality of waste water treatment systems in the developing world. He and his teammate Clement CID won the first prize of $300,000 for the 2015 Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project.