Dispatches from Graduate School–Part 41

Cali Pitchel McCullough is a Ph.D student in American history at Arizona State University.  For earlier posts in this series click here.

In November, my classmate Brianna and I applied for The Arizona State University Innovation Challenge with our budding business plan, History to the People. The Challenge “seeks undergraduate and graduate students from across the university who are dedicated to making a difference in our local and global communities through innovation.” Students can win up to $10,000 to bring their innovative project, prototype, venture or community partnership ideas to fruition. 188 teams of college entrepreneurs applied for the Challenge, and the first round of judges selected 30 finalists.
I am pleased to announce that the judges selected History to the People as a finalist! The humanities were severely underrepresented in the Challenge; many of the businesses were in science, technology, and medicine. This makes it all the more exciting that a university home to over 60,000 students would recognize a history project.
We gave our “pitch” on Saturday morning the 13th of February, and we had just five minutes to convince the panel of judges to fund HTTP. We nailed the pitch! (We had some really, really great coaching.) The judges seemed responsive, and the pitch felt more like a conversation—they were engaged the entire time. The success of Saturday left me distracted for the rest of the weekend, but we would not have to wait long for the results. Just three days later we’d join the other anxious finalists to hear our funding fate. How could they not award us funding after a pitch like that?
Brianna and I felt extremely confident going into the awards ceremony. During our pitch we made it clear that our number one priority is to file for 501c3 status, which would allow us to continue our fundraising process through state and federal grants. Surely, we would get the $2000 necessary to file and cover the cost of other local and national fees. We sat uncomfortably in our seats as the winning teams were called to the stage. The prizes increased: $2000, $3000, $4000. When they started giving $5000 prizes we took it either as a really good sign (more money than we had anticipated), or a really bad sign (no money). Unfortunately, the latter proved true.
Given the culture of the competition and its heavy biomed/tech emphasis, the outcome is not surprising. But we felt deflated nonetheless. We poured many hours into preparing for this competition (I even privileged it over my blogging responsibilities here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home!). My dad, who is our biggest supporter, sent along some words of encouragement, as did many of our colleagues and faculty members (also great cheerleaders throughout this process). Their continued enthusiasm in us and in our project gives us the impetus to regroup and think about how we need to move forward with History to the People.
The ASU Challenge is only a minor set-back, and I could not call myself an entrepreneur or a passionate historian if I gave up after a single failure. And failure isn’t even a fair assessment. We had the opportunity to sharpen our vision and to think very carefully about the words we use to describe HTTP. I know we will emerge stronger and with a clearer vision for the future of History to the People.

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