Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything”. Having left school, he was fired from his first two jobs after being told he was non-productive.

So how could someone with Edison’s school and early work record go on to invent the lightbulb? Could it be that his inquisitive mind was never adequately challenged until he decided that he was going to use his inquisitiveness and his interest in solving problems to good effect? Is an innovator born at the moment when they start looking to solve a problem?

In the late 1960s, John Adrian Shepherd-Barron was frustrated that he was unable to go to the bank during office hours to withdraw cash. He wanted to be able to access cash in the evenings, a time when banks were closed. This led him to hit upon the idea to create ATMs. In this case, as in so many cases linked to successful innovations, problems are the source of opportunities. (check out my earlier blog post about “When inventions provide unintended solutions”)

In 2013, the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) launched an innovation competition to help foster health innovation and to showcase the ideas of innovators from across the globe via an international health-focused platform. Since then, WISH has helped over 90 innovators and innovations by giving them a platform to engage with health leaders and policy makers at our biennial conference in Doha, Qatar.

Our aim has always been to support innovators, and each time we host innovators at our summit we learn more about how to help them more. Building on what we learned from previous events, this year we decided to reshape our innovation competition. We removed age limits, added workshops in the week before the summit (workshops that targeted ways to help innovators better pitch their ideas and products to potential customers and investors as well as looking at marketing, social media, web and UX), and have committed to support innovators in the months (and years) after WISH 2020 ended.

Putting such a programme together was not as easy as I thought it would be, there were lots of pitfalls along the way, which led to canceling some of the workshops, but I hope in the end that we managed to provide enough thought-provoking sessions to help the entrepreneurs who’d been selected from the hundreds of entries to become winners of our program. Although some workshops and other online activities were canceled, we remain committed to delivering those sessions at a later stage.

Due to global time zones, workshop sessions in the week before the summit were repeated each day – one early in the morning, Doha time, and one late in the evening. Fortunately this allowed all the competition winners to experience sessions with titles like “how to pitch like a rockstar”.

Before long, the moment of truth had come. The time where entrepreneurs would put together all the learnings of the previous week and pitch to local and international investors in just two minutes. I was nervous on the entrepreneurs’ behalf as we had never done something similar before, not physical nor virtual.

in the end, all the hard work and the time spent in putting the program together, selecting the mentors and the different workshops, and looking for the right investors appeared to be worth it, as:

  1. Entrepreneurs’ final pitches were way better than the ones shared with our mentor during the workshop week.
  2. Regardless of the stage of their innovation, each entrepreneur seemed to learn something that could contribute to their future success.
  3. Investors were surprised with the quality of the innovations and the pitches.
  4. Some investors have asked for contact details of some of the innovators in order to carry on the conversation. Hopefully, we will witness great success sometime soon.

To conclude, if there is one takeaway or a tip I would share to entrepreneurs it would be one that Steve Jobs has said “To turn really interesting ideas and fledgeling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years, it requires a lot of discipline.”

So it’s not just the brainiest people that birth the most brilliant innovations, but in fact those that are passionate to solve a real life problem and are disciplined enough to keep working when no one else believed in their innovation.