Prize fund challenges young people to become tech trailblazers

Nina Jacobs
Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Young people from disadvantaged areas are being encouraged to submit practical artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to issues such as climate change, health and wellbeing as part of a £25,000 prize fund.

Launched by innovation charity Nesta, the Longitude Explorer Prize is open to young people aged 11 to 16 across the UK but particularly aims to target those from lower income backgrounds or that are less likely to be represented in STEM careers.

The charity's Nesta Challenges division will provide free resources to secondary schools and youth groups that want to enter teams of young people to stimulate their creative thinking and help them come up with AI solutions.

Issues that young people will be asked to consider including tackling pollution and encouraging energy saving to finding ways for people to live more healthily.

The prize, supported by almost £1m funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, will select up to 60 semi-finalists to be announced in January 2020.

Thirty finalists will then be shortlisted by April 2020, each of which will be provided with mentors and access to further resources to develop their ideas into prototypes and business cases.

Finalists will compete for a £25,000 prize at a Dragon's Den-style event where they will pitch to a panel of expert judges before a winner is announced at the end of the academic year. Three runners up will also be awarded grants of £10,000.

The winning team is expected to use the prize fund to invest in STEM and entrepreneurial activities or to support it with the ongoing development of its concept.

The charity says work on submissions to the prize can be incorporated into extra-curricular, after-school activities such as STEM clubs, code clubs or youth group sessions with activity session plans provided by Nesta Challenges.

The initiative, which has been more widely rolled out across the UK following two pilots, has been developed in response to research that shows only 1.5 per cent of schoolchildren have access to innovation programmes.

In addition, Nesta says among the founders of innovation start-ups, women are outnumbered by men by four to one.

Tris Dyson, executive director of Nesta Challenges, said it was important to involve a diverse range of people in entrepreneurship.

"By encouraging young people from all walks of life to harness tech to tackle issues they care about, we can generate practical ideas that will make a real positive impact.

"AI is already all around us in our daily lives, so giving young people the chance to use it creatively as a force for good will help to demystify innovation while building their confidence and capabilities," he said.

Science minister Chris Skidmore said: "Today's teenagers are tomorrow's trailblazers. Their bright and brilliant ideas will propel us towards world-leading discoveries and help cement the UK's place as a global science superpower.
"From climate change to citizen wellbeing, it's inspiring to see engagement with pressing global issues," he said.

Previous Longitude Explorer Prize entries have included a tool allowing ambulance crews to check live data on available beds at hospitals as well as a wearable device for autistic young people enabling teachers to be alerted to their anxiety levels.

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