A few months ago, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was sleeping next to nothing, found myself achieving the unachievable and speaking more Spanish than English. I can honestly say July was one of the best months of my life. Before I get to explaining how being a staff member of Imagine Silicon Valley 2016 changed me, I want to share a little bit of how I got there. Hint: It all started with a dream.
The year was 2015 and I had been living in San Francisco for a few months. By then, I knew that locals never refer to San Francisco as “San Fran”, “SF” or “Frisco”. One day I was browsing Eventbrite for networking events that had free food, and came across a final event put on by the Imagine Creativity Center (Imagine). Without hesitation, I RSVP’d. “I can’t believe I am going to hear Spanish from Spain again, eat delicious tortilla de patata and jamón ibérico and hear about innovative projects,” I thought.
I arrived early and the event was everything that I had imagined it to be. I greeted women with a beso on each check, ate till my hearts content and stood in awe as I watched every group’s final presentation. After the “dreamers” were done, everyone started to network. From that moment on, I had a dream that I would someday be able to collaborate with Imagine. I talked with several staff members, but unfortunately our conversations didn’t really go anywhere after the event. One individual that I was hoping to meet was Xavier Verdaguer, Founder and CEO of the Imagine. Unfortunately, he was very busy and we didn’t have a chance to talk. I did however, follow him on Twitter before I left.
Fast forward a year later and I received the following direct message:
The gist of the above conversation was that Xavi asked me if I wanted to be a part of the Imagine Silicon Valley 2016 team. Without hesitation, I said yes.
About a month later, Xavi met with me in San Mateo for dinner. We discussed my responsibilities and his vision for the sixth edition. The next few days were spent visiting Hero City (Thank you Jeannette and Lisa!), touring apartment complexes and preparing as much as possible. before he returned to Spain.
During the month of July, 12 dreamers lived a radical, life changing experience, while finding ways to make the world a better place. The dreamers were divided into four groups and each were given a disruptive project. The projects this year were:
Sharing (Partner: Imagine Foundation)
Sharge (Partner: Audi Creativity Challenge)
Yama (Partner: Frit Ravich)
SeeLO (Partner: Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira)
In addition to following Imagine’s proprietary Lombard Method and developing their projects, dreamers had the opportunity to visit and learn from employees at the following companies:
- Stanford University
- The Hotels Network
- Lime Lab
+ many others
What I Learned:
If I am certain about one thing, it is that I received much more from this experience than I gave. Here are a few lessons that I learned from the dreamers, staff, mentors etc. that participated in this grand adventure with me:
- You’re never too young to dream: Are innovative ideas limited to those who have 10, 15, 20+ years of experience in a given industry? No. Take a second look above at what the masterminds behind Sharge (David Andrés, Elsa Rodríguez & Alex Sicart) came up with. Teenagers can change the world!
- Innovation exists everywhere: There is this mindset that innovation can only happen in Silicon Valley. Oh how wrong that thinking is! I have been fortunate to visit Peru, Colombia, Spain and many other European countries in the past few years, and can say, “Innovation exists everywhere.” Innovation isn’t in a particular place, it is in the ideas of the people that live there.
- Ask for feedback early and often: As this was my first exposure to prototyping, I learned from the very beginning how important it was for the teams to get feedback on their designs early and often. To mimic the experience of opening doors with a simple wearable, ShaRing team members followed a custodial employee around and open the doors for him. The dreamers from team Yama asked several questions to local convenience stores both in San Francisco and Barcelona. One of the reasons why I think all four teams were so successful was because they designed with their end users in mind.
- Teamwork makes the dream work: I couldn’t have done what I did without the support of a marvelous team. Whether it was running with me to pick up a vehicle, transporting dreamers to company visits, or organizing last minute logistics for the final event, I knew I could always count on them. The biggest highlight for me was seeing 12 individuals go from being complete strangers to teammates in the matter of a few weeks.
- Never think a dream is impossible to achieve: At Imagine we always say, “If you can Imagine it, you can do it!” Dreams came true this edition. Mamadou’s dream was to visit Google and visit Google we did. For a few dreamers, it was their first time to the United States. For me, I was fortunate to be able to participate and help make it happen.
What is one of your dreams? What are you doing to make it a reality? Comment below.