Entreprenurs challenged to "reinvent" future of work

Mar 19, 2018

Automation in the workplace has replaced many jobs, a trend that has adversely impacted low and moderate income earners.

A unique business competition encourages entrepreneurs to tap technology to help provide workers with the skills needed to adapt to the evolving job market.

Credit Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation is sponsoring an effort that promotes economic development through technology. The foundation is partnering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to broaden the impact of the school’s Inclusive Innovation Challenge.

The competition launched by the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy is expanding in its third year will feature regional competitions in North America, Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Four regional champions from the United States and Canada will receive $20,000 and eight finalists will receive $5,000. Four global grand prize winners will share $1 million in prize money.

The Wilson Foundation will host the North America regional competition in Detroit. The foundation, named after the founder of the Buffalo Bills, supports programs in southeast Michigan and Western New York. The foundation donated $300,000 for the regional competition and is helping develop the competition space in Detroit.

Foundation Vice President Lavea Brachman said the competition looks for entrepreneurs whose products can teach workers useful skills.

“The ideal candidates are those that are going to identify and promote entrepreneurial organizations that use technology to improve economic opportunity for low and moderate income earners,” Brachman said. “So it’s really about how we [can] use this challenge to promote shared prosperity in a better way.”

Candidates will travel to Detroit in September to present their technologies to a panel of judges. For-profit and non-for-profit organizations are allowed to participate in the competitions. Regional winners will travel to Cambridge in October to compete in the challenge’s Global Grand Prize Tournament.

In the program’s first two years, more than $2 million awarded money has been distributed to entrepreneurs with winning technologies.

“There’s a sense [that] automation in technology may be taking jobs away,” said Brachman. “But this is really to urge entrepreneurs to think outside the box and use technology to expand job creation, primarily for low-and-moderate-income earners.”

She stressed that technology can have a positive impact on job creation for workers at all economic levels.

“There’s a sense technology companies and entrepreneurship is really more for those who have a four-year college degree and are very tech savvy or leaders,” Brachman said. “But this [really shows] that entrepreneurship can be innovative and inclusive at the same time."

Brachman said she hopes organizations from the areas the Wilson Foundation serves participate in September’s competition.

“We will be spotlighting entrepreneurship that’s inclusive in our regions of southeast Michigan and Western New York,” Brachman said. “We’d really like to see an uptick in proposals from firms in those regions. We want to spotlight entrepreneurship that’s already going on that’s inclusive in Buffalo and Western New York.”