Now that the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2020 winners have been officially announced, you’ll want to learn more about each winning team and the story behind each innovation. In its fourth year, this online competition awards cash prizes to early-stage startups to develop a solution that drives economic development or solves a social or environmental problem.
We are excited for you to learn more about the 2020 winning teams addressing some of the biggest challenges we face through technology-based solutions. I recently connected with Majicom founder, Mike Coto, winner of a Third Runner-Up $10,000 USD prize.
What problem is your technology solution trying to solve?
Mike: One in three people lack access to safe drinking water, so this is a problem on a global scale. In urban centers like Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, poor water infrastructure forces people to rely on single-use bottles for their primary source of water – a product that is both very expensive and highly polluting. At Majicom we develop digital water ecosystems that purify and dispense clean, affordable water in a sustainable way.
What inspired you to develop this solution?
Mike: I had been interested in science for impact for a long time and decided to pursue a PhD in Materials Science, for solar and water treatment applications. During my studies, I wanted to take my research a step further than typical lab work, so I organized a field trip to Tanzania to benchmark different methods for treating and testing water. During this trip, I saw the need and desire for innovations in this space; not just from a technological perspective, but from a social perspective as well.
How will winning a prize in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge help you advance your business?
Mike: The funds will be used for our final build sprints before our commercial pilot, as we push beyond prototypes and sub-systems to a full minimal viable product. This will be carried out with our fantastic partners on the ground in Tanzania. The development of the full system will position us well to demonstrate the solution during a pilot phase and then move to refine and scale.
Do you know what you will use the prize money for specifically?
Mike: The funds will be used to build our full minimal viable product of the kiosk, alongside our partners in Tanzania. This is a full water system that integrates our novel purification technologies within an automated storage, monitoring, payment, and dispensing system. A big focus will be on digital integration, to ensure our system runs reliably and automatically.
We are also using the funds for an upcoming project where we will be collaborating with contemporary artists in Tanzania to feature their artwork on a range of reusable bottles. These will be sold alongside our kiosk systems and as stand-alone products to fund some of our community work.
How has the global pandemic impacted your work?
Mike: COVID-19 has meant much of our hardware development and lab-based R&D had to be put on hold for a few months, however this work has just started up again. As a team of scientists and builders, we have a tendency to spend much of our time building and doing experiments, so being locked out of the lab has actually given us a chance to step-back and consolidate the work we are doing and think more deeply about our long-term strategy, which has actually been quite helpful. Going forward, the pandemic may hinder some of our field trips to Tanzania. However, our great team of local partners are willing and able to support the ground work if we are unable to travel.
Why did you decide to start your own social enterprise versus going to work for a company?
Mike: The primary reason was to ensure my work created a positive impact. And I felt creating a social enterprise from scratch was the best way to protect and drive those values from the start without compromising. I also enjoy working in smaller teams, where there is greater freedom to be creative and a stronger sense of ownership in your day-to-day work. Finally, I was curious about the process of starting a social enterprise and wanted to learn what it is like to create a team, manage R&D and products, and figure out who your customers are and how to meet their needs.
What is the best piece of advice you received about starting your social enterprise?
Mike: Try to maintain egoless ambition. That is, to try and separate personal accolades and successes from the mission and progress of the startup or project. Elevate the mission over yourself – be output, not accolade, focused.
Do you have any advice for next year’s applicants?
Mike: Start the application process early, delegate tasks (if you are applying as a team), and request feedback from people outside of your project/company, if possible. No one knows as much about your project as you do, so make sure you don’t overcomplicate things when you don’t need to.
What job would you be doing if you didn’t do this?
Mike: Honestly, I’m not really sure. If I didn’t start Majicom, I could see myself working in international development or in an early-stage tech company. Starting Majicom has really changed who I am, so it’s hard to say where I would be without it.
What is your favorite book and why?
Mike: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, because of its beautiful and striking imagery.
What is your favorite activity when you are not working?
Mike: Playing musical instruments – currently the electric guitar. I’m also becoming somewhat of a cycling enthusiast.
Stay tuned for more articles in our blog series, featuring interviews with every Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2020 winning team!