Career Impact Challenge 2020 - a virtual spark to ignite innovation

By:  Mateusz Kałuża and James Ryan Kronk and in collaboration with The CommUnity Post

In the midst of the cold October weather and additional pandemic restrictions for many, three days full of enthusiasm and boundary-pushing took place. In these three days, the only unspoken rule was: Wherever you go, do not go alone. Thus, read on to learn of the most important moments from a fantastic virtual race toward innovation hosted by the EIT InnoEnergy during Career Impact Challenges 2020 edition. In the next paragraphs, you can see the hard work and results from the participants of the Career Impact Challenges 2020.

Unlike the previous year, the organizers needed to host the challenges online, encouraging them to use new tools to connect master students and Ph.D. candidates with three leading companies from the energy sector: McKinsey Energy Insights, Enel X, and Smart Innovation Norway. Teams of five, selected based on key roles assessed by the GC Index, were each assigned to one of the three companies. The entire process was supervised by the Enterprise Lab, a personal development and growth agency, which by providing top-level expertise, facilitated the problem-solving process through expert use of online tools. 

As befits this type of event, teams were forced into unification and cooperation; a task made more difficult by a race against the clock. From the opening ceremony held on the Enlit Europe platform on the morning of Tuesday, 27th October 2020, it was precisely 35 hours until virtual mailbox gates were closed for the stream of innovation. There was not even a second to take comfort spectating. Incredibly, a tremendous amount of energy must have accumulated in this relatively short time interval. And although the participants were spread across many locations around the world, the event turned into an enriching experience, even long after the final results were announced on Thursday morning, 29th October 2020.  

The enormous effort of the organizers allowed for the preparation of a truly royal arena, equipping participants with a dream toolkit that fits perfectly in our home office reality. Microsoft Teams, Mural boards, group mailboxes, Zoom breakout rooms - these are not even half of the spots where the exchange of ideas and professional mentor support took place. Grace van den Boogaart, Career Center Coordinator at EIT InnoEnergy, when asked about backstage insights, told us: 

“For me, it was my first virtual event of a bigger scale, we have had the matchmaking event in September 2020 before, but this one-day event had fewer people attending and fewer different activities. Therefore the EIT InnoEnergy Career Impact Challenges being completely virtual was an all-new experience for all of us. The difference this year was that we didn’t have to search for hotels to accommodate 100 students, but we had to look for different platforms that could support our challenges virtually. This turned out to be Mural for design thinking, MS Teams for communicating, and Enlit’s tool Swapcard for networking.“

This wide range of tools is not surprising when looking closer at the ambitious challenges. McKinsey Energy Insights put the participants in the currently difficult role of analysts seeking an estimate of the magnitude of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the energy transition. Touching upon GDP, the EU Green Deal, and social sciences focusing on human behavior, five teams made efforts to sketch a roadmap towards a green future despite the current uncertainty and the dynamic changes we are constantly experiencing. The winner of the challenge was team McTeamsy, with its multidimensional framework where the old regime with the Oil&Gas industry on top meets future frontrunners: hydrogen and storage technologies.

Fig  1. McTeamsy, the challenge winner, pitching their solution to the jury.

On the other hand, the second challenge provider, Enel X, brought to the fore a very measurable aspect of the data profitability the company is working with. Enel X emphasized the creativity the sector needs in today’s data-driven reality. The team responses were thorough, revealing that there is still an opportunity window to redesign some of the business models. The highest overall band score consisting, among other things, of idea strength, innovative aspect, pitch performance, and team cooperation led  Zero Ventures to take the lead and be awarded. With the solution, master students aimed to introduce a fresh look at the construction process of net zero-emission buildings (NZEB). This emerging trend being the response from the building sector to climate change still needs incentives in the form of attractive business models. 

In parallel, experts from Smart Innovation Norway were supporting the third section in pursuing new business models for low-carbon communities where innovative design, proper setup, and heterogeneity sum up to reveal synergies. They wanted their teams to develop new business models with their Business Model Innovator (BMI) tool for their E-land project. The E-land project was Smart Innovation Norway’s program for developing sustainable energy communities with the best tools available. The teams were given one of three pilot areas to work with: Port of Borg, Norway; Walqa Technology Park, Spain; or Valahia University of Targoviste, Romania. Team Valhalla was assigned to the Walqa Technology park and developed their winning idea of green energy shares. The idea revolved around allowing employees of the technology park to own shares in the energy technologies on the campus, allowing for better internal investment. Smart Innovation Norway liked this business model, mainly because it engages the community and promotes sustainable growth.

Fig 2. Open to the public Winners Showcase on Enlit’s platform.

All three winning teams had the opportunity to present their solutions to the wider audience during the live-streamed showcase which is now available on the Enlit Europe Youtube channel. When summing up the Career Impact Challenge 2020, together with disruptive ideas meticulously converted into tangible outputs, there is a set of key takeaways that cannot be dismissed, especially if you, the reader, are already signed up or plan to take part in a similar event. Amid the top three are: 

- Remote networking is the silver bullet to ensure limitless accessibility to top-quality events and expert support. World-renowned events with hundreds of participants are knocking on our doors at no cost!

- A relatively short time limit does not limit the impact. Although the state-of-art is not changed, a couple of days is enough to come up with brilliant ideas that can drive the transition and connect the right agents.

- A good team is a dream! Attribution based on GC Index profiles (Fig 3.) revealed the whole spectrum of advantages stemming from having people with different proclivities on-board. 


Fig 3.  Proclivities’ configuration in one of the teams. Colour code: blue - the Strategist, green - the Game Changer, yellow - the Polisher, red- the Implementer, purple- the PlayMaker. Source: GC Index.


Muhammad Hafeez Saeed, a winning team member for the McKinsey Energy Insights challenge, commented afterward: 

“CIC2020 was a manifestation of how the global energy transition and sustainability issues can be tackled in the light of extraordinary circumstances arising due to Covid-19. I had a great opportunity of working in a multi-disciplinary team of students and with amazing mentors who emphasized avoiding a siloed thinking approach and instead focusing on systems thinking models to deal with energy transition issues. I am so happy to have been able to be part of CIC2020.”

Additionally, Grace revealed an observation that cannot be omitted in times of global change that turns the way we work upside down: 

I have to say, for me, it felt like the students were more engaged and more connected than the previous year. I don’t know if this was because it was all virtually, and I was able to go into any Mural creations, all MS teams groups, otherwise, with a live event, the teams are more spread out over the fair. Besides that, I also believe the sessions for design thinking and using the GC Index in a team was a great start to further integrate the GC Index outcome into the challenges. This was new for this edition, and was based on the feedback we’ve received from the 2019 edition.

So do not plan alone, but explore - in person or online - together! These and many more challenges are still waiting to be tackled, and we hope you are inspired to join the journey.

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