Imagine being able to order food, drinks and merchandise on your seat without having to take a long walk to the usually crowded refreshment area in a stadium!
Or imagine following your favourite team real time with tailor-made updates while driving! How about a smart football jersey which would wirelessly track the ECG signals of players’ hearts in real time which would help detect any abnormalities and predict cardiac events, thus potentially helping save thousands of lives.
For those travelling to Qatar from cooler climates, they won’t be able to feel discomfort due to heat! How about giving visually impaired fans unprecedented access to digital football content?
These ideas certainly seem farfetched and their chances of being actualized could be hundred-to-one. However, come 2022 in Qatar when they host the FIFA World Cup, these ideas could be a reality.
Back in 2015, Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), came up with a unique concept of ‘Challenge 22’ which is an innovation award challenging the creative and technological minds to find solutions in certain sectors which have been identified as ‘challenging’ by the organizers.
“The purpose of this programme is that we are trying to cultivate the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship within the region. The moment you see the World Cup, people only think it’s for the athletes and the football fans. But we feel that everyone can be engaged with this event. We have a lot of programmes for artists, engineers, communities, CSR’s (Corporate Social Responsibility) and football development. This one is targeting innovators and entrepreneurs," explained Fatma Al Nuami, Project Sponsor of Challenge 22.
“We always feel that there is a lot of talent in the Middle-East and through this programme, we can showcase these talents. So we usually sit with the technical team trying to understand and identify what challenges are there.
"The challenges are different every year. So we look at different categories such as sustainability, health and safety, tourism and technology,” asserted Fatma.
No wonder Facebook has come onboard to be a strategic partner for Challenge 22. Some of the top venture capitalists, incubators, innovators are part of the judges and mentors panel.
Last year, there were around 300 participants and in the second season, the number has more than tripled to 1000. The panelists filter the participants twice before the finalists are announced. A mentor is assigned to them so that they can further refine their ideas both in terms of viability and keeping the World Cup 2022 in mind.
The winners are given a cash prize of 15000 USD and could receive a grant of close to 100000 USD for their project. They are further provided with office space and all the necessary paraphernalia needed in order to ensure the smooth transition from the ideation phase to creating a tangible product which would not just benefit the World Cup but humanity at large.
“We provide them with office space, mentorship and help them to realize this idea into an established company and eventually to have a commercialized product for the World Cup and beyond. We don’t want to be the only supplier because this company will have a product beyond us. So we need to be their clients and give them a big push by being their first client.
"We have from the first cycle successful ideas that now engage with different stakeholders and have started to get revenues. This is the kind of legacy that we want to leave behind – giving those entrepreneurs a platform like the World Cup,” informed Fatma.
In case you are wondering what was the fate of those who won the Challenge 22 award in 2016, one of them has already an IP (Intellectual Property) registered - Quanocomposits. They are a company which specialises in sustainable ways to produce a more durable, less flammable insulation material which can withstand 45 minutes of heat without even minimal damage which could make construction projects safer.
And it isn’t just the winners who get all the limelight and attention. In fact, some of the participants too are provided with opportunities by judges if they are impressed by their ideas.
“A lot of people actually didn’t cut through but there are different people who poach them. I saw one team from incubation centre who told me that they liked a particular idea and this is someone who hasn’t won the award. But the incubation team still wants them,” one of the panelists mentioned.
With the 2022 World Cup less than five years away, Challenge 22 is expected to be expanded to other parts of the world and gradually be all encompassing so as to involve as many people, which would support the greatest football extravaganza.
“My bosses have said to go global. But to go global, we need to start building partnerships in these countries. We need to connect with the Asian market and how we can tap into the talent there as well,” divulged Fatima.
Qatar’s promise of delivering an amazing World Cup looks to be on course and it isn’t just the stadiums, cooling technology or building an entire smart city of Lusail, it is about leaving a lasting, social, economic, technological, innovative and human legacy.