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Realizing a better future faster: What we learned at the 1776 Challenge Festival



 Brent Shafer
The global population will grow to nine billion by 2050, with more than 70 percent of people predicted to live in cities by that time, according to the World Urbanization Prospects 2014 report. With such shifts come increased demand for safe neighborhoods, as well as affordable, local food, water and energy – societal challenges that will require innovative thinking and change-the-world optimism.


However, as we look to the challenges of tomorrow, we must also face the obstacles of today – an aging population that will continue to grow, the rise of chronic disease, siloes of big data and increased engagement in and demand for connectivity, sustainability and health.


Whether we are looking at today or the future, the 2015 1776 Challenge Festival made one thing clear – hope for a healthier, happier and more energy efficient tomorrow lies in great collaborations and unlikely partnerships that break down barriers to make the best ideas a reality faster than ever before.


1776 is a global incubator and seed fund that connects the world’s hottest start-ups in health, energy, education, transportation and cities with the resources they need to excel. Their annual Challenge Festival convenes more than 10,000 business leaders, government officials, investors, promising startups and entrepreneurs for a week of conferences, galas and startup pitch competitions to discuss the most innovative thinking in these industry categories and decide which startups show the most promise.


This year’s festival was a fascinating journey of discovery and change, and I was delighted to learn from the disruptors and renegades who take risks not just for innovation’s sake or monetary gain but more often for the greater good.


Collaboration with partners who share our vision of meaningful innovation makes our goal at Philips of changing the lives of 3 billion people a year by 2025 more attainable. It also makes it even more obvious that we need entrepreneurs shaking things up and putting pressure on us to see and think differently, and the world needs that too.




Take Unima – a biotechnology startup that competed in the Festival and developed a process for efficient diagnostics and real-time analysis that can be implemented outside a lab, even without electricity, using one piece of paper and a mobile app. Or Radiator Labs – another competing startup out of Brooklyn, New York that won the MIT Clean Energy Prize in 2012 for its patented technology that regulates temperatures and reduces energy waste in apartments, offices and other types of buildings.


And overall competition winner Twiga Fruits, that is combating rising food prices across Africa and ensuring domestic fruit sales and foreign exports serve as a backbone for Kenya’s economy by building distribution networks that work directly with farmers and remove the middleman.


With the challenges of tomorrow and the fresh talent, technological advances and policy liberalization of today, there are new rules and roles. Tinkering around the edges of the status quo will simply not be enough. We look forward to continuing to put our brains together with these startups that exemplify how, around the world and in even the most regulated of industries, collaboration and open innovation can lead to meaningful change.


Brent Shafer

Brent Shafer

Chief Executive Officer, Philips North America

In February 2014, Brent assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer of Philips North America. His responsibilities include management of all Philips businesses in Healthcare, Consumer Lifestyle, and Lighting and its supporting operations, along with leading its 22,000 employees in North America.


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