So, we had our very first Dragon Challenge this past Saturday!
We invited a stellar panel of judges:
Todd Hanson, who evaluates non profits for the Orange County Community Foundation; Marisa Thalberg, who runs all the marketing for the $10B Taco Bell Corporation; and Mohamed El-Erian, Chief Economic Advisor for Allianz. Yes, we asked these impressive leaders to evaluate our top Four Finalists, and to choose one team to receive an additional $5,000 to continue their project at the Dragon Challenge.
We started by asking each panelist to share how he or she evaluates teams, companies, ideas. Todd shared how he looks at Leadership, Leverage, and Outcomes. Among other factors, Marisa seeks distinctiveness — that unique something that sets a concept apart. Mohamed listed five significant considerations: Clarity, Commitment, Sustainability, Culture, and Respect. It was inspiring and instructive to hear from these experienced business and non-profit leaders.
Then each of our four teams presented. Our Dragon Fellows were amazing. Each shared about how they came up with their project ideas, what they hoped to accomplish, whom they hoped to help. They shared about mistakes they made and also, the impact they had. They told stories about the kids and seniors they worked with, about a girl named Neftaly who learned so much more than science.
Our judges asked tough questions, made comments, and then retired to a separate room to deliberate. In the end, what they decided made so much sense. In the end, they chose the very best winners. Our judges didn’t want to choose just one team. They were impressed by the passion of all our teams, and so, our judges decided, “Everyone is a winner.”
The Wells Fargo Foundation stepped forward and announced that they would match our prize money with an additional $5,000!
Mohamed El-Erian, wanting to support all teams, donated $20,000! With these generous gifts, and with the judges’ evaluation that every team deserved support, we decided that each team would get funds to continue working to serve their communities.
“It was extremely difficult to pick a winner from a group of such talented, dynamic and inspiring high school students. Their entrepreneurial drive is enabling and empowering so many others while also developing their own expertise which will serve them well in their bright futures,” commented Dr. El-Erian.
And while the judges were impressed by all, one team, in particular, stood out as the top project in the competition: “Open Sesame: Coding for Kids,” run by Milan Narula and Katherine McPhie, students at University High School in Irvine. Milan and Katherine were singled out for their leadership of over 50 volunteers, for running coding camps impacting 60+ children, and for their clear vision of how they would continue to run and expand their project, bringing coding to underprivileged communities throughout Orange County.
“Like Ali Baba, kids today need to know the code that will open doors. Learning to code will open opportunities to them in terms of the jobs of the future,” commented Katherine, explaining the title of their winning project.
“If these are the leaders of tomorrow,” noted Ms. Thalberg, “I believe our future is in good hands.”