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ILP Institute Insider

October 2, 2018

MIT Solve: Leveraging open innovation to solve global challenges

Managing Director of MIT Solve’s Community, Hala Hanna finds and supports promising solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

Daniel de Wolff

By 2050 there will be more than 9 billion people on the planet. How will we provide access to education for everyone, generate enough energy, meet medical needs, create productive employment? As envisioned by MIT President L. Rafael Reif, the Solve initiative begins by acknowledging that in an interconnected world, global challenges require global solutions facilitated by open innovation and partnership. “Solve is a natural offshoot of MIT’s ethos of experimentation and its desire to use technology to improve the world,” says Hala Hanna, Managing Director of Solve’s Community.

Launched in 2015, Solve aims to accelerate positive change by soliciting solutions to four actionable challenges each year. For each Global Challenge, Solve selects the most promising Solver teams who will drive transformational change. “We support Solver teams from all walks of life, with all types of solutions. Whether you have a pilot or are raising your series A, regardless if you are for profit or nonprofit, Solve wants to hear about your innovation,” says Hanna. At present, Solve supports 66 teams from 23 different countries, and they take on an additional 30-35 new teams every year. These teams will be supported by Solve’s member organizations throughout their solution lifecycles.



Hala Hanna
Managing Director, Community
MIT Solve


Emma Yang, founder of Timeless, was just 14 years old when she was selected to join the Solve community. Emma built an application to help Alzheimer’s patients keep their memories alive. She cited 3 key factors limiting the success of her mobile application: awareness, adoption, and the common stereotype that the elderly can’t use technology. To overcome these limitations she needed exposure, backing from the scientific community, and connections in the neuroscience field. Through the Solve community Emma was able to find the technical support necessary to grow her idea while raising the profile of Timeless by virtue of Solve’s extensive media partnerships, thereby increasing visibility and support for her solution and helping her idea to scale.

Hanna stresses that Solve understands the importance of exposure for the Solver teams, which is why events are an important aspect of the Solve process. “Solve convenes our community at least twice per year: here on campus during our annual MIT Solve event and at the Solve Challenge Finals that happen in September in New York when we select the Solver teams,” she explains. This year, the Solve Challenge Finals will take place September 23, 2018, in New York during UN General Assembly week, where selected innovators will pitch their solutions to a panel of expert judges and a live audience.

“Solve is a marketplace where we connect innovators with a community of cross-sector leaders who want to offer their support,” says Hanna. MIT Solve Members and the support they provide are as diverse as the teams and solutions they support. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has devoted his time and energy as Curator of the MIT Solve Arts and Culture Mentorship Prize. Meanwhile, on 2017’s Learning Challenge: Workforce of the Future, Solve partnered with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Atlassian Foundation International. DFAT and Atlassian each awarded US$1 million in grant funding to innovative Solver teams who had an impact in developing countries in the Indo-Pacific.






MIT Solve plays an integral role in brokering an inclusive process of un-siloed experimentation and problem solving for the benefit of all. “Solve is a community of leaders from business, foundations, and the public sector who want to have an impact. Our members are key to the work that we do toward advancing our mission.”

In 2018, General Motors is providing funding to four teams with Solutions that apply advanced technologies to Solve’s Teachers & Educators and Work of the Future Challenges. While Solve members are a diverse lot, they are connected by a common thread: members want to drive solutions to the world’s biggest challenges.

Hanna notes that MIT Solve is pleased to be able to offer a discounted membership rate of $4,500 per year to members of MIT ILP. Solve members gain access to first-hand innovative ideas and the Solver teams who pitch them, build partnerships with other members and Solver teams, make connections with other cross sector leaders at Solve, and help shape Solve’s future challenges.

Solve works closely with MIT faculty and students through all aspects of the cycle, from defining the challenges and convening the community to supporting the Solver teams. In fact, about ten percent of Solver teams are MIT affiliated. You Wu is a recent MIT alum and Solver team leader who designed a small robot to detect leaks in water pipes long before they become catastrophic. His technology has the potential to save municipalities millions of dollars while ensuring robust water supplies. With the support of MIT Solve, Wu is in the process of launching his startup, WatchTower Robotics, as a fully-fledged corporate entity. They currently have pilot programs in the U.S., Mexico, and China, and are in the process of raising their first round of seed funding.

Hanna points out that many Solver teams are drawn to take part in Solve due to the desire to connect with the MIT campus. Solve is essentially opening the doors of MIT to people who may not previously have had access to the many resources provided by such a world class institution. “We believe that creativity and ingenuity exist everywhere,” says Hanna. “Solving big global challenges requires everyone to come to the table and get involved.”