Innovators from twenty-five companies came to San Jose this month for four days of networking parties, meetings with Silicon Valley luminaries, and introductions to venture capitalists and other potential investors. The 25 were plucked from a field of more than 700 nominations from 68 countries, in the annual Tech Museum Awards competition. Only five went home with cash prizes of $50,000 each, but the contacts made, and the Tech Museumâ''s vote of confidence, are likely worth a lot more than $50,000.
The projects didnâ''t all involve electrotechnology, computers, or the Internet. Several, for example, featured creative uses of algae, seaweed, or other aquatic plants. Fundacion Terram from Chile attaches seaweed to the nets around farmed salmon to absorb waste products from the salmon and keep the water clean. (Fundacion Terram was one of the cash-prize winners.) Consortium SudEco Industrie from Montreal harvests aquatic plants choking Senegals waterways and converts them into clean-burning pellet fuel.
Among the honorees in the electrotechnology and computer fields, San Franciscoâ''s blueEnergy, another $50,000 prize winner, teaches Nicaraguans how to construct hybrid energy systems that use wind power and solar panels. MathTrax, from Houston, Texas, automatically translates graphs and equations into sounds so blind and visually impaired students can study abstract math. Kamal Quadir from Bangladesh runs an electronic marketplace (think Craigâ''s list for traders and farmers) via cell phone. And Grameen Shakti, also from Bangladesh, trains rural women to install and repair solar home systems and cook stoves.
A complete list of the 25 honorees is here.